Jeremy Jarvis, age 13, was arrested Tuesday in Pompano Beach, Florida in connection with a burglary. For those who may not remember, Jeremy and his brother Denver were suspects in the Michael Brewer burning case. Last October, Brewer, age 15, was nearly killed when a group of teenagers set him on fire after dousing him with rubbing alcohol. Brewer spent many months in the Jackson Memorial Burn Center where he suffered greatly and nearly died.
Jeremy Jarvis was never charged in that crime, although his brother is presently facing attempted murder charges.
In regards to the most recent case, Jeremy is accused of breaking into a house to steal a video game system. Jeremy was allegedly caught on a video camera attached to the victim’s computer. The victim allegedly identified Jeremy who is said to have admitted to the crime later on.
While Jeremy and his bother are clearly innocent until proven guilty, I think it is safe to say that there is something wrong in the Jarvis home. This case highlights the distinct complexities faced when criminal law and juvenile justice collide.
On the one hand, we have a situation that seemingly concerns some serious juvenile delinquency. On the other hard, we are clearly dealing with juveniles. As bad as some kids may be, many ultimately grow up to become decent adults.
However, that is not always the case. Many juvenile offenders grow up to become adult offenders. In fact, some of the worst criminals in the adult system also have some of the worst juvenile criminal histories on record.
This is why juvenile justice is so difficult. A judge in a juvenile courtroom is tasked with a different mission than an adult court judge. His or her mission is to save as many kids as possible.
It is a war that is fought each and every day in our county’s courtrooms. Not all kids can be saved. In fact, the system probably saves far fewer kids than it loses.
It takes a special kind of judge and a special kind of defense lawyer to deal with these cases. In many ways, juvenile court judges are like drug court judges. Instead of battling the evils of substance abuse they are battling a multi-front war that includes immaturity, child abuse, poverty, neglect, mental health disorders, and plain old punk-dom.
Knowing how and when to penalize a child is a special skill. As tough as they maybe in school to other kids or teachers, many become big cry-babies when facing their judge. Others remain stern and tough. Again, not all kids can be saved, unfortunately.
Anyway, the point of this article is to highlight the great importance our juvenile justice systems plays in society. Even when we have really bad kids who do really bad things, the answer doesn’t necessarily lie in adult sanctions.
As a society, we would be better served by aggressively attacking poverty, mental health problems, and child neglect. Its a simple fact that unsupervised children with nothing to do find trouble to get into.
Regardless, I do advocate harsh sanctions for some offenders. For example, the kids that nearly killed Michael Brewer should be punished as adults and they should be punished harshly. In contrast, the burglary that Jeremy Jarvis is accused of committing does not warrant an adult sanction, even if he was a suspect in the burning case.
From a defense lawyer’s perspective, the first thing that should be done is a mental health assessment. It would be tremendously helpful to know Jarvis’ maturity level, his home environment, and whether or not he suffers from any developmental problems.
If so, his defense team could use these findings to advocate for a more rehabilitative approach to dealing with his case.
At the end of the day, when it comes to juvenile justice, the law requires an analysis that forces lawyers and judges to stop and consider the fact that they are dealing with a child – no matter what the crime alleged concerns. From there, we can make wise choices that are most beneficial to the child and society without compromising our values and ethics.