“What we’re saying is if you’re committing certain violent crimes, we want you to go to the criminal court where they deal with criminals and criminal activity,” he said.
The bill would force any juvenile offender who commits a violent crime to petition for the justice system to see them as a juvenile delinquent.
Currently, Sexton explained a juvenile delinquent goes to juvenile court and can then be elevated to an adult court. This bill would allow criminal courts to make the decision of whether to try them in juvenile court or adult court.
“We’re all about rehabbing people, but the thing is, as we say with truth in sentencing, when you cross a line, as a juvenile, then you should be treated as an adult,” Sexton said. “There are certain crimes you commit where you should be treated as an adult.”
Democrats disagree with the notion, arguing we have separate courts for a reason.
“Juvenile justices understand that juveniles and adolescents haven’t fully formed,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “The reason for these children committing these crimes is generally a result of childhood trauma or a mental health issue or peer pressure.”
After last year’s brutal string of crime in Memphis, Democrats also argued we don’t need harsher penalties, we need better rehabilitation.
“I know there were several high profile incidents in Memphis this summer,” Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said. “What I’ve shared with leadership when I’ve spoken to them is these were all people who were juvenile offenders who were not properly rehabilitated and ended up becoming adult offenders.”
But Sexton pushed back on that, saying the COVID-19 pandemic and a year doing school virtually showed the problem is getting worse.
“You go talk to anybody, any person in Shelby County, in Memphis, and say, ‘Is juvenile crime running high?’” Sexton said. “They will tell you yes.”
News 2 looks at the community consequences of the growing number of kids committing crimes and new ideas about solutions with our special reports, Juvenile Crime.