2 Teens At Center Of Juvenile Crime Debate

ByABC News
March 8, 2001, 5:34 PM

March 9 -- "He's lost his future is gone."

Fifteen-year-old Charles "Andy" Williams' mother uttered those words after she learned about her son's arrest for a fatal shooting spree in Santana High School.

Some say those words also apply to Lionel Tate, 14, who has been sentenced to life in prison without parole in the wrestling death of his 6-year-old playmate. Under Florida law, Tate faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for his conviction on first-degree murder charges.

Both Tate, who was 12 when he killed 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick, and Williams, who faces an adult trial under California's Proposition 21, are being punished under strong laws designed to deter other juveniles from committing similar crimes.

However, critics find reasons in both these cases to question the appropriateness of such laws, and whether they have any impact on children.

"There's no question that they don't stop school shootings," said Mark Soler, president of the Youth Law Center, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that seeks alternatives to incarceration for underage offenders. "I don't think anybody would agree that a change in state policy is going to deter an adolescent a child from doing anything. What the laws have done is substitute a broad statement of policy for individualized justice."

Tate: Case Study Of A Failing System?

Tate was tried as an adult under a 1981 Florida statute that gives prosecutors discretion as to whether to charge juveniles as adults. Florida is one of 15 states that grant prosecutors this power.

While a report by the Justice Department last year said that juvenile murder arrests had reached a 33-year low, falling 68 percent between 1994 and 1999, some critics pointed to a study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that found Florida still had the second-highest overall violent crime rate among juveniles in the country a rate that is 48 percent higher than the rest of the country.