I was reading an article about a relatively recent story where a minor was convicted of murdering another minor.

This triggered a train of thought that ended in the question in the title. To explain what would be the point:

  • usually minors are not considered fully independent, and are extended shorter jail terms because of that
  • usually minors are considered under the responsibility of a guardian (most commonly the parents)
  • if a minor commits a crime that deserves a jail term, it seems (to me) logical that the guardian has not (fully) performed their duty of educating, guiding and surveying the minor
  • a jail term is nowadays seen not only as a punishment, but also as a way to re-educate and rehabilitate the culprit

So, the idea would be that the person responsible for the minor would be effectively co-responsible in case of malfeasance. And that a guardian might need to be rehabilitated before they can possibly be guardians again. Said otherwise, if a minor is imprisoned, then the guardian is investigated, prosecuted, and possibly also the guardian is imprisoned.

Has such an idea/law ever been discussed or proposed? If yes, what are the main arguments against?

  • 1
    Any specific country in mind? – BruceWayne Mar 8 '19 at 17:40
  • @BruceWayne no, not really. I come from a western nation, but if it is something present/debated in a non-western country, I don't see why not including it in an answer. – Federico Mar 8 '19 at 21:09

Punishing people that didn't commit crimes for the crimes of others is a practice generally seen in totalitarian regimes or equally repressive cultures. The main argument against is that it doesn't solve anything, minors still have free will; such laws would encourage effective imprisonment of minors. We understand that the concept of right and wrong is learned behavior, minors don't instinctively know what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, it is generally accepted that minors are less capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. It's the combination of these that is the reason for juvenile justice systems exist, and they usually have less lasting impact. The more modern definition of justice is about punishing only those guilty of a crime, and in proportion with that crime. If someone steals a car and wrecks it, they have to pay for it, but the victim doesn't get to take every possession from the perpetrator until that debt is paid.

There are laws that exist in some countries that can effectively be used to the same result, but respect an individual's right to a trial and presumption of innocence. Felony Murder is one concept, it allows a person to be charged with murder if they take part in a felony crime in which a person is killed even if they didn't kill them directly. It can also be applied to those that knew that a crime was going to be committed and failed to report that information. These laws are themselves controversial, but at a minimum they still force those charged to be tried separately, and they state must prove their guilt. There is also the collection of laws against abuse, and gross negligence that can be used to target those guardians who truly deserve fines or jail time. What is important is that the guilt of a minor does not prove the guilt of a guardian, which a proposal such as yours would do.

  • Ok, maybe I should rephrase, since I would not propose that "the guilt of a minor does not prove the guilt of a guardian" but rather that "the guilt of a minor instigates the investigation of possible guilt of a guardian" that currently does not seem to be the case, right? also, I am not following you when you say "such laws would encourage effective imprisonment of minors", which laws, the one I "propose"? why? could you clarify? thank you – Federico Mar 8 '19 at 13:47
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    @Federico if a guardian is liable for actions of a minor, some guardians will essentially imprison their kid to prevent the potential consequences of them committing a crime. – Ryathal Mar 8 '19 at 14:05
  • ok, I see your point now, I needed to reread it a couple of times. thank you – Federico Mar 8 '19 at 14:11
  • Note that this refers to criminal prosecution - a parent can be partially or fully liable for torts commited by their children, even and especially if the child is under the age of responsibility. – IllusiveBrian Mar 8 '19 at 21:26

No. Most legal jurisdictions recognize a "age of criminal responsibility" (For Federal Crimes in the United States, children below the age of 11 are considered not criminally responsible. Of the states that do have the law stated, the age is below either 6 or 7, and for the remaing states that don't it's determined on a case by case basis.). This is similar to an insanity defense, in that, the argument is that the child was to young to understand the implications of his or her actions and the ramifications of them, thus has no guilty mind when the criminal incident occurred.

This may be challenged by the prosecution offering evidence to demonstrate that the child was fully understanding of his/her actions.

Other countries with higher ages (14-18) may also have a non-judicial social services that seek to find the least restrictive means to correct the conditions that allowed the crime to happen. Counseling and therapy are typical, but it's not unheard of to remove the child from the parent's care (this might be the punishment a parent could face for the crimes of the child).

Some countries (like the US) will have a juvenile court system which will handle the cases of children past the Age of Criminal Responsibility but before the Age of Majority (18 in the U.S.). This is usually to shield minors who are criminally responsible from the harsher aspects of the justice system and provide access to education and a route out. All sentences end on the child's 18 birthday and the records are seal and cannot be accessed by the public without judicial approval to do so.

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