Should a Juvenile Serve 23 Years for Shooting a Retired Police Dog?

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"He had a juvenile record, but they were really minor things," says his attorney, Jack Fleischman. "The state made it seem like he was a monster, but they exaggerated the record."

When Rose-Green heard of the dog shooting, she was taken aback by how Ivins was being portrayed in the media. She went to see him at the juvenile detention center to talk to him in person.

"The cops were saying that he was a kid without remorse," Rose-Green says. "When I went to see him, I saw a kid who was lost, trying to understand, 'Why was I so stupid? What did I do?' That's what I saw on his face. It's not that he didn't have any remorse. He knew his life was over. He knew this was something serious that was going to cost him dearly."

Rose-Green, who has worked with juveniles for more than 15 years, says, "I've worked with many kids in the system, and I don't think Ivins deserves 23 years. Absolutely not. I've worked with kids who did manslaughter and got three to four years in a juvenile program. Why not let him stay in a juvenile program until he's 21 years old and then put him on probation?"

She points out the "affluenza" story of white 16-year-old Texas teen Ethan Couch, who was given ten years' probation and no prison time for killing four people in a drunk-driving case from February 2014. She also points out the story of 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill, who in 2000 murdered his teacher and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Aronberg has little sympathy: "He was exactly the type of juvenile that the direct-file law was made for."

"And you give a kid -- and that's what he is, a kid -- 23 years for killing a dog?" she says.

To Palm Beach County prosecutors, the answer was yes. Ivins was "a career criminal who did not respond to juvenile treatment he received prior to shooting a police dog in cold blood," according to Aronberg. So using the leeway afforded him under Florida's direct-file law, he charged the 16-year-old as an adult, eliminating any chance of a long-term juvenile program.

Even today, Aronberg has little sympathy for the young man, telling New Times: "He was exactly the type of juvenile that the direct-file law was made for."

Aronberg's depiction of Ivins as a ruthless criminal who was too corrupted for juvenile rehabilitation sounds like something straight out of the 1990s, when criminologists popularized the idea that a spike in juvenile crime would give rise to a future generation of killer kids who would cause unprecedented mayhem.

The surge in violent juvenile crime was real. Nationally, in 1987, there were 300 arrests for every 100,000 juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 for violent crimes, including murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice. By 1993, that rate had increased to 500 arrests per 100,000 juveniles.

Based on this spike, Dr. John DiIulio, then a Princeton University professor, coined the term "Super Predators," which would catch on as a label to describe the future generation of kids.

In the 1990s, when criminologists popularized the idea that a spike in juvenile crime would give rise to a future generation of killer kids who would cause unprecedented mayhem.

In his essay titled "The Coming of the Super Predators," published in the Weekly Standard in 1995, DiIulio wrote that some of society's most dangerous people were young children and that it would only get worse: "We're talking about boys whose voices have yet to change. We're talking about elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches. We're talking about kids who have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. In short, we're talking big trouble that hasn't yet begun to crest."

In a 1996 essay titled "My Black Crime Problem, and Ours," published in urban policy magazine City Journal, DiIulio predicted that 50 percent of these super predators would be black.

"[T]he number of young black criminals is likely to surge, but also the black crime rate, both black-on-black and black-on-white, is increasing, so that as many as half of these juvenile super-predators could be young black males," he wrote.

The media and other like-minded criminologists, including Northwestern University Professor James Fox, sounded the alarm. Politicians grew eager to be "tough on crime."

"There are no violent offenses that are juvenile," railed then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. "You rape somebody, you're an adult. You shoot somebody, you're an adult."

States enhanced their juvenile punishment laws, including expanding the range of offenses for which kids could be charged as adults. In 1994, Florida legislators introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, which, among other reforms, sought to strengthen punishments of juveniles and increase prosecutors' power to charge kids as adults through a process called "direct file," the process of charging juveniles as adults through a prosecutor's discretion rather than a judge's individual assessment. That process had been on the books since 1978 but was limited to juveniles with previous violent felonies. The new 1994 law expanded the range of eligibility to first-time violent offenders and to juveniles charged with property crimes and misdemeanors, if the juvenile had two previous felonies.

The 1994 bill was inspired by a violent-crime wave in 1993 that threatened Florida's tourism industry. Six foreign tourists were killed in a six-month span that year, including Jorg Schell, a German who was shot and killed by 16-year-old Damon Peterson.

However, by the time most of these new laws were enacted, the spike in juvenile crime had begun to subside. By 1997, juvenile arrests for violent crimes decreased to 400 per 100,000. By 2000, the numbers were back to 1987 levels. And by 2011, numbers dumped down to 200, the lowest in more than 30 years. Researchers have suggested various reasons for this drop: the end of the 1980s crack epidemic, a stronger economy, less lead in gasoline.

Whatever the explanation for the decrease, the idea of the "super predators" proved to be false. Even DiIulio admitted he was wrong and wrote essays to assuage the effects of his mistaken predictions -- harsh sentences doled out to juveniles.

"I couldn't write fast enough to curb the reaction,'' he told the New York Times in a 2001 interview.

In January 2012, DiIulio, along with Professor Fox, signed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama. That case revolved around Evan Miller, who was just 14 years old when he and an older teenager were accused of setting fire to a neighbor's home, which resulted in the neighbor's death.He was sentenced to life without parole, and his lawyers appealed on grounds that such a sentence for a juvenile was unconstitutional. His lawyers relied on Graham v. Florida, a 2008 case that held that life-without-parole sentences for juveniles for crimes excluding murder are cruel and unusual punishment.

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Ray Downs
Contact: Ray Downs