Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What is an adult?

News outlets that favor the salacious were quick to run with news on Debra Lafave, the former teacher convicted a couple years back of having a sexual relationship with a minor student. As reported in the St. Petersburg, FL, paper, Ms. Lafave was picked up on a violation warrant because she had unsupervised conversations with a 17 year old coworker.

This case, behind all the flash and sensationalism, hints at a broader problem in criminal justice, as posed in the title line to this post. The law, and Ms. Lafave's parole conditions, establish that anyone below the age of majority is a "minor," "infant" or "child." Unless, of course, such person commits a serious crime, and then he/she is suddenly treated as an "adult" under the law. Meanwhile, many non-felonious 15-18 (or 21) year olds are working alongside adults, driving alongside adults, having intimate relationships (hopefully not with adults), and otherwise living lives that are indistinguishable but for the age of the person.

The Jamestown Lawyer doesn't have an idea on how to meld the sociology of today's minors with the established traditions of the law. It is clear that children are a vulnerable population and deserving of protection under the law. A bright line standard may be the most efficient way to do so, but in cases like the recently freed G. Wilson in Georgia or perhaps (if the facts support the original allegations) Ms. Lafave, the bright line seems blurred by an outdated vision of childhood.


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