Juvenile Justice Clinical Fellow: Children Who Commit Crimes Can Change

In an opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun, University of Baltimore School of Law Juvenile  Justice Project Clinical Fellow Lila Meadows says that even though emotions are running high in the murder of Baltimore County police officer Amy Caprio, the age of the accused must be taken into consideration as part of the case.

“Dawnta Harris is charged with first-degree murder,” Meadows writes. “If convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence. We still do not know much about Mr. Harris. During his bail review hearing on Tuesday, we learned that he has a juvenile record for stealing cars and that he recently absconded from an unsecure juvenile facility. We also know that he is only 16 years old. He is being charged as an adult, but that is simply a legal fiction. Dawnta Harris is a child with all of the limitations that come with adolescence.”

Meadows cites a number of Supreme Court cases in which juveniles were serving life sentences. In all three instances, the court agreed with the findings of many neuroscientists, who say that a child’s cognitive functioning is limited, and their ability to evaluate risk and understand consequences is not on par with an adult’s.

“Officer Caprio lost her life much too soon in what can only be described as a truly senseless act. Her family is grieving. Her community is mourning. The loss to Officer Caprio’s family is irrefutable and permanent. Emotions are running high. The community wants justice and accountability. True justice requires accountability that is proportional to culpability.”

Read the op-ed in the Sun.

Learn more about the Juvenile Justice Project.

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