Youthful offenders face adult courts, but are protected by Supreme Court ruling

Life sentences illegal for some young criminals

TAMPA - St. Petersburg Police say Le'genius Williams, 13 years old shot an older boy on a bicycle earlier this month  because he was being taunted.  

The 15 year old victim  is expected to fully recover. But on Thursday, Williams was charged as an adult with attempted first degree murder which carries a minimum 30 year sentence because a firearm was used.

Law professor, Jeffery Swartz of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School says that poses a problem for State Attorney Bernie McCabe who urged the Pinellas Grand Jury to bring the adult charges against Williams. That's because of another young offender named Terrance Jamar Graham.

 In 2005  The 17 year old from Jacksonville  was given a life sentence for home invasion robberies. In appealing the sentence, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that  juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non homicide offenses.  Swartz believes that ruling would also apply to the mandatory 30 year sentence facing Williams.

"They don't believe a juvenile has a fully formed enough intelligence to be able to have the kind of depravity that adults would have. So to apply that kind of adult standard to a juvenile would be cruel and unusual punishment" said Swartz.

Yet the relatively brief and mild punishment courts are allowed to hand out under the juvenile system strikes many as inadequate to address the heinous crimes that are committed.

"Our youthful offender statue doesn't go far enough. If you're convicted and treated as a youthful offender, you only get four years maximum incarceration and two years probation to follow and that's just not enough.  

Swartz believes more money needs to be spent on rehabilitation for youthful offenders while they are in jail.

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