The arrest of at least fourteen youths in Milwaukee on October 3 for the beating death of 36-year-old Charles Young Jr. may prove a landmark case in United States criminal law since all of the accused are under the age of 18, some as young as 10, and all have the possibility of being charged as adults.

The more serious charge (the possibility of being tried as an adult) stems from a 1996 Wisconsin state law that mandates that anyone as young as 10 years of age, charged with first degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, attempted first degree intentional homicide, or second degree intentional homicide be automatically charged as an adult. Yet the law does provide for the possibility that those ages 10 to 14 may be waived down to a juvenile court after farther hearings. Of course first-degree murder possesses several important characteristics (e.g. responsibility, intention, and premeditation), which (according to the state of Wisconsin) separate it from “”lesser”” forms of homicide.

Yet one can still have little doubt that the Wisconsin State Court is as barbarous as one might hope to find in the “”democratic”” world. Even when dealing with as severe a crime as first-degree murder, how can we not separate the mind of a child from that of an adult? The entire reason chihiren are tried under different statutes is that they are thought not to possess the maturity or fall mental capacities of an adult, a verity that is not altered by that child’s ability to commit heinous acts of violence. Indeed in many ways murder may be the one thing most needing of a double standard in our court system, for while a child can comprehend the consequence of theft or vandalism, the mind of a ten year old cannot conceptually fathom the notion of death; a fact that, in and of itself, should separate them from adult murderers, who are at least partially, if not fally, aware of the outcome of their actions.

Yet let us assume for a minute that this law is just, necessary though not essentially dignified, such that it is adopted by all fifty states. What then would happen if Texas (for example) chose to enact this legislation? Might we soon be seeing youths not even yet in high school (not even in middle school) being strapped to chairs and summarily murdered by the state? Or perhaps we would not be allowed to see, lest the sight offend the same delicate sensibilities that thought it proper to enact such a law.

Or perhaps there is an easier solution, an answer that would not only justify the case in Milwaukee but all similar cases that may result. Might we not, as a nation, decide that ten-year-olds are not only adults when they are committing homicide, but all the time? Might we amend the Constitution to give fourth and fifth graders voting rights, or require boys of no more than ten to register for Selective Service so that they might shoulder a rifle and march off to war should their country need them? But of course we would then have to change the driving age, the drinking age, and most of the laws concerning statutory rape, indeed our entire cultural paradigm on adulthood would need altering so that this new statue might seem more reasonable, more legitimate. On and on the argument continues until, at its end, we are presented with one fundamental question, how can it be that ten year olds are adults when they’re criminals, but are otherwise children, an answer that Wisconsin legislators might have taken some time to address before they so hastily passed this law.

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