Most states have laws that expunge a minor’s criminal record after reaching a certain age, usually 17 or 18 (info found at lawyers.com). The reasoning behind these laws is to prevent a person’s childhood criminal record from affecting his adult life. Every person essentially begins his adulthood with a clean legal record.
Consider for example the case of a sixteen year-old breaking and entering a private property. Ideally, after the child becomes of age, there will be no available criminal record of his actions. No school admission board or prospective employer would be able to deny the person’s acceptance as a result of his past criminal offenses. Had he committed the same crime at age eighteen, however, the offense would still appear on his record—making it less likely for him to receive the same opportunities he may have had otherwise. As an adult he would be held responsible for the exact same crime that he would no longer be held responsible for if had he merely committed it two years earlier.
Should people be held responsible for crimes they committed as a minor? I think yes. Each decision we make influences our future, so we should act cautiously with regards to the law. Breaking the law is wrong, regardless of a person’s age. Just because a person is a couple of years younger should not make it any more acceptable or less punishable to commit a criminal offense. Opponents to my position may argue that minors are naïve or too immature to understand the law, and that their foolishness as a result of their innocence should be forgiven. After reaching adulthood, people should have had enough time and experience to be held accountable for their actions. And at this point, an adult should have learned from his past mistakes—thus influencing a crime-free future. This line of thought would suggest that the child had a learning experience that would make them act better in the future.
I, however, think a person could learn more from his past offenses remaining on his record. Future employers would be able to see when the crime was committed, and could make their own judgment on whether or not the offense would impact the applicant’s performance in the work place. It is possible that they would dismiss the past crimes if they occurred at a young age anyway, since people really do mature and become wiser with age. Employers do have a right to know of past criminal offenses, moreover, because a person’s behavior as a child really is an indicator of his adult persona.
Furthermore, the expunging of offenses by minors may actually influence a child to commit a crime. If the child knew that his record would be clean after just a few years if he were to get caught, he would be more likely to commit the crime than if he knew it would remain on his permanent record. Lasting consequences are more frightening, especially at a younger age.
As a concluding note, it might be helpful to approach the topic from a different angle. If I received a prestigious award in high school, I would continue to exploit my feat for as long as possible. If past accomplishments can follow and help me through the years, then past mistakes should follow me as well. Minors should thus be held responsible for their actions, even when they are older.