Editorial: Gov. Scott was right to veto S-107

As Vermont’s Legislature temporarily cools its jets and Gov. Scott’s administration reviews the final draft of the budget and other important pieces of legislation for either approval or rejection, we applaud Gov. Scott for his recent veto of S-107.

The bill, S-107, would have allowed defendants up to age 20 to avoid public disclosure for a long list of serious crimes in Vermont, including DUI fatal vehicular accidents, domestic abuse, hate crimes, lewd conduct, embezzlements and more. The concern among those who passed the measure was that Vermont juveniles who commit crimes should not be saddled their entire lives with a mistake made as a 16, 17, 18 or 19-year-old.

What is irksome, is the Legislature’s attempt to coddle and protect those who have been given an adult’s responsibility from the consequences.

The relevant incident that sparked the current legislation occurred in September 2020, when a 16-year-old female driver from Atlanta crossed a yellow line on U.S. 7 in Charlotte and the consequent head-on car crash killed the retired Ferrisburgh Town Clerk and his wife.

During the trial, however, the county prosecutor refused to send the case to adult court like had been done in similar cases throughout the years in Vermont; the prosecutor cited a need to protect the individual’s identity through the Juvenile Court System. It was eventually released, but the initial refusal sparked a controversy over how Vermont treats juvenile drivers and the consequences they face when serious crimes occur.

The Vermont Press Association was among the groups and individuals that found much inconsistency with the legislation (S-107) that would allow criminals up to age 20 to pass through juvenile court because they apparently, a VPA statement said, “lacked maturity. Yet at the same time there was legislation approved to allow 16-year-olds (and those just about to turn 16) to vote at Vermont Town Meetings and to serve as selectboard members, town treasurer and other positions through the Brattleboro Town Charter.”

The VPA’s statement continued: “As was noted during testimony and elsewhere Vermont has no adequate (juvenile justice) system in place. Little could be done….  The case of Isabel Seward, 16, of Atlanta apparently went to juvenile court, which — officials have said — has few options since Vermont closed its juvenile jail and does not have many, if any, relevant long-term programs.”

The end result was that Seward was issued a $220 ticket by the Vermont State Police.

In vetoing S-107, Gov. Scott said Vermont’s juvenile justice system was still lacking “access to the rehabilitation, services, housing and other supports needed to both hold these young adults accountable and help them stay out of the criminal justice system in the future.”

Until that system was in place, Scott said, he was against weakening the existing laws that hold teenagers accountable for their actions, and allowing the public more transparency of the crimes they commit.

We couldn’t agree more. And as that process evolves we hope a key deterrent in any future system will be public transparency; that is, that the cloak of secrecy will not hide the crimes juveniles commit because of some misguided notion that 16-to-19-year-olds shouldn’t be held publicly accountable for their misdeeds.

The Juvenile Justice system should be honed to give young adults — and that’s the definition of an age group that can drive, be representatives on boards, travel abroad on programs, get full-time jobs, go to college, get married, join the military and fight in wars, and on and on — a second chance at life, but it should not be a system that coddles and shelters them from the serious consequences of their actions. It should not be a system that awards juveniles a get-out-of-jail-free card as if the crimes committed were simply something they didn’t mean to do.

We join the VPA as it “looks forward to a comprehensive program that works for all Vermonters, while also ensuring public accountability and transparency.”

Angelo Lynn

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