Juvenile criminals’ names should be public

February 3, 2012

By Contributor

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The Legislature is now considering two bills that would restrict access to records of crimes committed by minors, only allowing disclosure in the case of “serious violent offenses” as defined by law. Lesser violent crimes and property crimes would remain confidential.

The bills are bad ones, and should be stopped.

When a juvenile commits a serious crime, nobody involved takes the matter lightly. From the prosecutors to the courts, to the media that reports on crime, everyone weighs the value of punishing an individual against the needs of society.

The policy at Newcastle News is to report the names of juveniles only when they are charged with a felony. We did not arrive at this policy lightly. We’re glad to say it is infrequent that we come across minors charged with felonies. We do understand the implications when we choose to publish the name of a minor. But we stand by the public’s right to know.

If you were the victim of a string of home burglaries or neighborhood arson fires, you’d want to know who did it. We believe you’d want to know regardless of whether it was an adult or a teen — especially if the suspect lived next door.

It is just as important to ensure that the wrong people are not accused of a crime. Too frequently, the school-based gossip mill implicates an innocent person. Reporting in the media can make clear who is actually the suspected criminal.

Juvenile defense attorneys are asking the Legislature to rewrite the law because the publicity can have a negative impact on the lives of children once they reach adulthood.

Certainly, a person should not have to suffer their entire life for a crime they committed when they were minors. But this proposal (Senate Bill 6292 and House Bill 2542) to restrict access to court records goes too far.

The public needs to understand what is happening in their community and who is doing it. Restricting access to juvenile court records goes too far toward protecting the individual over the community as a whole.

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