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SIMMONS: System working; problem is the law

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Reader response led to this followup to last week's "Can't be a felon" column, which focused on the kid-glove approach to youths and crime. Some of you called me and sent e-mails with interesting feedback. You all agreed: The system is working.

The problem is the law.

In sum, the column focused on weak D.C. laws that fail to hold young offenders criminally accountable for their violent acts. In this case, three young men were charged and a fourth suspect is sought in the two fatal attacks that have killed five persons and wounded five others.

In an e-mail, Gerald called D.C. leaders "cowards" (and used all caps to do so) and said laws should be toughened to clamp down on youths who commit violent crimes.

Keith, a Gulf War veteran, said the "juvy laws in the city are a joke" and that "perps" know how to game the system. Kenny said, "Your words are profound … but fall on deaf ears if it's not in 'their' neighborhoood."

On the Web, some took issue with federal oversight. "Mtnmopar" suggested Congress "restore the Federal control over DC and bring some hard enforcement of laws," and "g9m4" said "this is what obama is going to do to the rest of the country. i can't wait!"

There's no telling what the federal government would or wouldn't do. What's certain is that some states are tougher than weak-kneed D.C. when it comes to justice.

Look at a Pennsylvania case from February 2009. An 11-year-old boy gets up, gets dressed, picks up his 20-gauge shotgun, points it at the back of the head of his dad's sleeping girlfriend and "boom!" The boy puts away the shotgun, leaves the family farmhouse in western Pennsylvania and hops on his school bus. The woman, eight months pregnant, and her unborn child die.

The boy, now 12, was charged as an adult with two counts of homicide. Pennsylvania law says that anyone 10 years or older accused of murder or homicide is charged as an adult. If convicted, the boy faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

Now look at a D.C. case from March 2010. A 14-year-old boy gets behind the wheel of a minivan, drives to a neighborhood in Southeast Washington, witnesses passengers in the van spray automatic weapons into a crowd and leads police on a chase. Four people are killed and five are injured. One of the victims, already disabled, is clinging to life in a D.C. area hospital.

The boy was charged with 41 counts, including four counts of first-degree murder. D.C. law says the courts cannot treat juveniles under age 15 as adults. If convicted, the boy faces possibe probation or commitment to a youth detenton center. Either way, he goes free at age 21.

Retaliation was the apparent motive in the D.C. shootings, and now fears of further retaliation have sunk in for people who know the victims and the suspects.

Uniformed and undercover officers attend funerals for the victims, concerned that another outbreak of violence will occur. After all, the bloodletting was over a missing bracelet.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, a woman who knows victims and perpetrators says her heart goes out for both the victims and their families, but she is equally heartbroken for the mother of two of the suspects. The D.C. system of justice "failed" the suspects and their parents.

"I am angry, p----d to know that this little boy is being charged as a juvenile," said the woman, who in no way wants to be identified.

Two of the suspects are brothers — Orlando and Sanquan Carter, and, though adults now, they too had juvenile records.

People are sometimes too quick to blame parents for the actions of their children. The woman said with the suspects in and out of the system, blame the system, not the parents.

"It is my opinion that the system failed her as well," the woman said.

What can parents to do?

If you're in a state like Pennsylvania, you can petition to have your child's case heard in juvenile court, which is what the father of the now-12-year-old did. But if you're in D.C., parents can't do much more than throw up their hands, while judges' hands are tied.

The system isn't the problem. The problem is the D.C. rule of law.

Children — especially those with bloody hands — must be held accountable.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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