Are we responsible for our past?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Are we responsible for our past?

  1. Although I can see why you want people to be held responsible for their actions as minors, I can’t quite bring myself to agree with your points. As a minor, you are still developing in some pretty major ways, and haven’t really had a chance to learn from your mistakes yet. Cognitively, you may not be at a point where you are actually capable of weighing consequences when making a decision. Yes, there’s not really a difference between someone’s maturity at 17 years and 364 days old and their maturity at 18 years old, but there has to be a cutoff somewhere. Someone who was pressured into shoplifting as a 14 year old does not deserve to have that kind of blot on their record, potentially preventing them from getting a job to support themselves, when they are now a mature and responsible adult.

  2. I agree with the main points you make in this write up, and I do think minors should be held accountable for what they have previously done. It is rarely better to have little information as opposed to more when making a decision. If the goal is coming to the right decision, there is generally a lot more harm in hiding information than disclosing it. We as a society are very forgiving and believe very much in second chances, perhaps to a fault. As you point out, employers can make their own judgments as to whether or not acts committed while someone was under 18 are still relevant to their character now. With full disclosure those that advocate for second chances still have the ability to see someones complete record and can still come to the conclusion that their past as a minor is irrelevant. Employers and others recognize that as a minor a person isn’t fully developed, however a person’s past is often relevant to their current self and even if it is not, we as individuals are capable of making that determinations for ourselves and do not need that sort of information shielded from.

  3. I think we definitely should be held responsible for our actions. If we are not, then we essentially have a blank check up until 17/18 and we are free to do whatever we want without having any repercussions further in life.

    When applying for jobs or colleges, there is usually an area in the application that allows for the person to explain how he got into trouble — what exactly happened. This allows for the person to explain what happened and how he learned from it.

    While I agree that as teenagers we are still learning, we still have a basic idea of what is right or wrong. Therefore, we know what we should and should not do. That is the main reason why I believe our actions while growing up should not be expunged.

  4. I do support the case for expunging records upon reaching adulthood because I do not think minors should be responsible for their actions. By starting adulthood with a clean record it allows for citizens to become a functioning part of society if they previously were criminals. Employers often do not hire people with records which can lead them to a life of unemployment and poverty. In order to give everyone a fair chance at making a living and in being successful it makes sense for records to be wiped clean. However, your concluding sentence comparing accomplishments to crimes made me stop and rethink my opinion of the topic. Although my opinion remains unchanged it is an interesting way to think about a criminal record.

  5. I believe that we should be held responsible for our actions, but I also believe the legal system is structured in such a way as to give forgiveness. For instance, take a person who is charged a minor in possession of alcohol. This person can either hire a lawyer or not. If he does not then it is likely the MIP will be on his record. If he hires the lawyer and pays the fines, then he will be able to get off completely (this may vary in some states). So from the first offense we can see the judicial system being easy on minors- if you can pay. If you can’t the legal system can become a slippery slope. As a person acumulates a large criminal record, his chances of getting hired by an employer decrease and his commitment to a life of crime increase. So, where does this leave us. Ultimately, I believe minors who commit crimes and know that it won’t matter five years from now will continue to commit crimes. Thus, we should be responsible.

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