SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A 14-year-old San Jose gang member could spend life in prison if convicted of attempted murder.
Christian Cotero is among the growing number of teens who are being tried as adults. The number of such cases jumped 60% in 2013 in Santa Clara County alone.
The most hardened criminals, the most serious crimes. More are more are committed by children.
We talked to a young couple that were victims of such a crime.
Three years ago they were out for a stroll in San Jose with their 9-month-old baby when a group of teens started yelling gang slurs. As associates of a rival gang, they were used to it.
“This happens all the time so maybe they will just leave us alone if we ignore them,” said the young man. But this time it was different.
“All of a sudden we just heard the shot go off. Next thing you know I am on the floor,” he said. “You see him spitting up blood and the gunshot wound, and the side of his neck swollen because the bullet got stuck on the side,” said his wife. She says he thought for sure she was going to lose him.
But he survived, and prosecutors tried the teenage shooter as an adult, sending him to prison for 42 years. It’s called direct file.
“Our duty is to protect the public from these kinds of people and the direct file law gives us the tools to do that,” said Chris Arriola, a prosecutor with the Santa Clara County DA’s office.
Arriola says making the decision to try a minor as an adult isn’t taken lightly. “We sit down all four of us must agree to directly file a case in adult court because of either the sophistication the gravity of the offense or the record of the minor who has committed the crime,” he said.
Across the bay at the National Center for Youth Law attorney Michael Harris at the National Center for Youth Law has a different opinion.
“We should try to give young people a second chance even when they commit serious hardcore crimes,” he said. He told us even the most serious criminals, at that age, still have a chance to change.
In fact, Harris says juveniles who go through the adult system are more likely to commit worse crimes later on.
“Once they get out they are going to be much more violent because that’s what they’ve lived for several years,” he said.
But Chris Arriola says many of the teens are gang members, who refuse to be helped.
“You have such incredibly premeditated violent behavior that you simply don’t have the opportunity to rehabilitate the young person but more importantly it’s far too great a risk to public safety to put that person back into society,” he said.
The young man shot three years ago says he looked his attempted killers in their eyes and forgave them.
“I am pretty sure that he was doing it to be initiated, because sometimes when you are in that lifestyle they put you to do stuff,” he said.
Still he thinks the shooter deserved what he got.
“I think everyone should pay for what they did,” he said.
The brush with death convinced the young couple we talked to to get out of the gang lifestyle.
Now they’re mentoring other young teens to do the same, so that they won’t end up in prison, tried as adults.