Cristian Fernandez should be playing Little League, getting ready for summer vacation, riding bikes, and chewing bubblegum. Instead the 12-year-old is facing first degree murder charges and life in prison. Prosecutors say he killed his little brother, 2-year-old David Galarriago, last March, and that means he needs to face the adult charges that could potentially make him the United States' youngest ever "lifer."
Remember, he's 12. Too young to drink a beer. Too young to drive a car. Too young to ride a bike without a helmet. Old enough to face life in prison. Think about that.
Because that's the one fact that has made a case that's really not even yet a case blow up seemingly overnight. The alleged crime occurred months ago, but Fernandez was just indicted by a Florida grand jury. Just indicted, which means nothing in terms of guilt or innocence, but does push the case forward and ensure he's on the path to an adult court rather than juvenile proceedings.
What happened, whether Fernandez did it or not (remember, we ARE innocent until proven guilty in this country) was horrific. A 2-year-old died, that is not to be taken lightly. It's the sort of horror that kicks you in the gut as a parent, that makes you cry out for swift justice, harsh punishments on behalf of the child. But by pushing the case forward, we as a country are making a bold statement about the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, the one that prohibits the excessive bail and fines or cruel and unusual punishments.
We're thinking with our hearts. But we need to stop and think with our heads. Is this the sort of punishment we really want? Twelve-year-olds are children too; children whose brains are still developing. National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends no kid under age 12 be left home alone for precisely that reason -- kids that young are still learning right from wrong, still handling impulse control. Yet Fernandez, at just 12, was apparently home alone with his 2-year-old brother at the time of the incident, just the two of them.
Remember, a 12-year-old can't do much of what an adult do. And there's a reason for that. Because they're not ready. Their brains can't handle it. Their brains can't be expected to make the decisions in a split second behind the wheel of a car even if their legs can reach the pedals.
Should a 12-year-old really be sentenced to life in prison if he killed a child? Is even considering this option cruel and unusual punishment on behalf of the court?