Washington, D.C., is not known as a get-tough-on-crime jurisdiction, but Mayor Anthony Williams is advocating legisaltion that would make it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults. The bill may gain momentum after an Oct. 30 killing of a 16-year-old boy by a 15-year-old boy outside a public high school.
The day after the killing, the Washington Post reports, the mayor presented his proposal to the City Council. It would require defense lawyers to prove that a 15-year-old is not a danger to the public and can be rehabilitated in order to keep him from being transferred to adult court.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, on WTOP radio, said that teen killers “ought to be punished as harshly as possible. They should be tried as adults, and they should be given very, very stiff sentences. . . . You can’t take another life and then expect to be treated as a child.”
The youngest age at which juveniles can be tried as adults in the District is 15, compared with 14 in most states, including Maryland and Virginia. The mayor’s 42-page bill, which was months in the drafting, includes proposals to remove some of the obstacles to transfer 15-year-olds to adult court. Only eight such transfers have occurred in the past decade.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., director of the Public Defender Service for the District, called the proposal “a wrongheaded approach.” Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), who chairs the committee that oversees juvenile justice, said she was leaning the bill. “There are things we need to do in our city before we jump on our children,” she said. “We don’t have enough programs in our city. We need to work on Youth Services and other juvenile services. We need to look at the total picture, not just the criminal aspect.”