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Age vs. Justice: Prosecutorial Triple Standards


In October, I wrote an op-ed on the practice of “trying juveniles as adults,” citing the case of 14-year-old Philip Chism. The Andover, Massachusetts teen stands accused of killing 24-year-old teacher Colleen Ritzer.

As I pointed out in that previous piece, politicians and prosecutors (but I repeat myself) enjoy a double standard under which those previously legally defined as “children” because they’re younger than an arbitrary number can suddenly and magically transform into “adults” when they’re accused of committing a crime and when a politician or prosecutor (but I repeat myself again) sees possible political advantage in a sensational trial.

I didn’t know it at the time, but characterizing this regime as a “double standard” doesn’t even come close in Chism’s case. As the Associated Press now reports, “Chism is charged with murder as an adult. He is charged as a youthful offender on aggravated rape and armed robbery charges, which are pending in juvenile court.”

Try and wrap your brain around that: Chism was (and still is) considered a “child” for purposes of driving, voting, drinking, signing contracts and having sex. But standing accused of three crimes, committed at the same time, in the same place, against the same person, he is simultaneously an “adult” for one crime and a “child” for the other two.

Whoever came up with this idiotic claim needs a remedial course in logic, with an emphasis on the law of non-contradiction (Aristotle: “It is not possible to say truly at the same time that the same thing is and is not a man”). In fact, I’m tempted to recommend Avicenna’s corrective (“Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned”).

Philip Chism is either a child or an adult. He cannot be both at the same time and in the same respect. The double standard of treating him as a child for some purposes and an adult for others is bad enough, but it’s at least an apples and oranges kind of thing. This TRIPLE standard, where he’s considered simultaneously a child and an adult, one and then the other for only slightly different parts of a closely connected set of alleged actions, completely belies the claim that what the state’s functionaries are seeking in this case is “justice.”

The obvious remedy to the child/adult problem in criminal prosecutions is to remove such determinations from the hands of prosecutors, judges and politicians (but I repeat myself a third time!). Instead of letting politicians draw numbers out of hats, then ignore those numbers when convenient, allow juries to examine, and determine to their own satisfaction the competency of, those accused of crimes (and those unwillingly co-opted as “victims,” too). Leaving justice in the hands of politicians and of the inherently unjust institutions we call “states” is a mistake with deadly and traumatizing consequences.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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