One-quarter of the public think a minor charged with murder should be given a heavier punishment than an adult, according to a Supreme Court research institute poll released Wednesday, while no judges surveyed believed they should be treated more severely.
The Legal Training and Research Institute polled 1,000 people over age 19 in eight cities nationwide and 766 criminal trial judges to see what the public’s feelings are about sentencing ahead of the introduction of the “citizen judge” system for criminal trials by May 2009. The survey was conducted between last August and September.
Of the 39 possible circumstances given in the survey that could affect sentencing in a slaying — including intoxication or prior abuse — the responses of the judges and the members of the public were distinctly different on cases in which the defendant was a minor, which under the law is under 20 years of age. More than 90 percent of the judges supported handing down a lighter sentence than for an adult and none chose giving a heavier punishment.
Half of the citizens polled said they could not decide, while 25.4 percent said a heavier punishment should be imposed.
The Juvenile Law implies that greater consideration be given to a minor and a lighter punishment be imposed to enable future rehabilitation.
A Supreme Court official said further analysis was necessary to determine whether the public’s survey responses were in accordance with other data that show the public wants stricter punishments for minors.
In a murder case in which the defendant had been drinking alcohol at the time of the crime, 17.9 percent of the responses from the public said a heavy punishment should be imposed, while only 0.8 percent of the judges thought so, and 32.1 percent of the judges said the punishment should be lighter.
In a case where the victim was the murderer’s spouse, only 6.4 percent of the judges said they would give a heavy sentence, compared with 36.5 percent of the citizen respondents.
The Supreme Court is considering what documents to provide to the “lay judges” when the new system is introduced.
When asked about acting as a judge, 82.7 percent of the public said they would need judicial precedents in similar cases to aid them in sentencing.
Under the new system, the lay judges, effectively jurors, to be chosen from lists of eligible voters will have the authority to hand down verdicts and decide sentences in serious criminal cases.