When Kids Get Life
The documentary “When kids get life” raises a critical issue of teenage murderers and the way they are treated by the US justice system. Focusing on the stories of five teenagers who were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the authors of the film speculate on the question of whether their crimes correspond to the harshness of the meted punishment. The audience finds out about the life stories of the five teenagers, as well as the motives and circumstances under which the murders were committed. Although the authors of the documentary clearly sympathize with the sentenced teenagers, the film brings up more questions than it gives answers and raises numerous key issues concerning the US justice system and its efficacy.
The way the five cases were presented in the documentary, all the teenagers seem to be victims of the circumstances. However, the viewers should not forget that, whatever the circumstances, four of them are guilty of taking a human life, which is the most serious of felonies. Such effect was produced by the film due to many interviews with the accused and their relatives that were included in the documentary. Nonetheless, for the purpose of objectivity, such personal statements should be ignored as nonobjective. It is natural that the relatives of the victims should demand the most severe punishment while the murderers’ parents always look for possible ways to somehow justify the terrible wrong that was done. Both points of view are irrelevant for the sake of justice and thus are not to be taken into account.
What seems to be conclusively proven in the film is the obsolete nature of the felony murder rule. According to this rule, if a death occurs when a felony is being committed or even attempted, the felon is charged with murder. The key fact that proves the injustice of this rule in the eyes of most analysts is that if the felony is committed by a group of people, all of them will be charged with murder. The rule disregards the fact by whom the murder was committed. All the members of the group are claimed to be responsible (Anup, 2007). Most common-law countries have abolished this rule long ago. However, surprisingly, it is retained by the majority of American states (Cole, 1990).
In the light of felony murder rule, the challenging question of US justice system efficacy should also be addressed. According to the survey that was carried out by the University of Michigan law school and Northwestern University, application of the latest technics permitted to prove the innocence of “over 2,000 prisoners exonerated between 1989 and the present day” (Love, 2012). This number is too important to be written off to mistakes that can occur in any system. It actually proves the inefficiency of the US justice system. The same conclusion was reached by the authors of the discussed documentary in regard to the way juvenile delinquents are tried. It is suggested in the film that the numerous obstacles on the way of the long-overdue changes in the justice system are political issues that are very difficult to overcome.
Finally, the documentary leads the viewers to reflections on what an efficient way to gauging teenager’s responsibility may be. After all, the difference between a 17-year-old juvenile delinquent and an 18-year-old person who is tried as an adult is not that considerable. It is doubtful that such one-year difference changes much in the way a person perceives the world or what he or she sees as acceptable. There are no conclusive proofs that at 18, people become more responsible or better understand the consequences of their own actions.
All in all, “When kids get life” is an impressive documentary that, although in a bit bias way, presents the problems of US justice system in general and juveniles sentenced to life in particular. After careful analyses and consideration, it can be concluded that there are rules and procedures in the justice system that need to be discussed, revised or even abolished.
Anup, M. (2007, December 3). Does the felony murder rule deter? Evidence from FBI crime data. The New York Times. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/malani.pdf
Bikel, O. (2007). When kids get life [Television series episode]. In D. Fanning (Executive Producer), Frontline.
Cole, K. L. (1990). Killings during crime: Toward a discriminating theory of strict liability. American Criminal Law Review, 28(1), 73-74. Retrieved from www.ssrn.com/abstract=1721863
Love, D. A. (2012, May 21). How America's death penalty murders innocents. The Guardian. Retrieved from www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/may/21/america-death-penalty-murders-innocents