Teenagers and Drug Sales: What’s the Takeaway?

Hearing that a 17-year-old was caught selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer might cause one to jump to the conclusion that this individual should spend years in prison. But looking more closely at the situation will show you that it’s just not that simple.
To begin with, as our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, this boy is hardly a hardened criminal. To put things in perspective, at 17-years-old, he isn’t old enough to vote and his brain won’t be fully developed for at least another 7 or 8 years.

So, what do we make of the fact that this boy was caught selling drugs and allegedly robbing someone he thought was a drug dealer? Our years of experience in criminal defense law have taught us that children far too often get tied up in the world of drug running and that remedying this problem takes education and treatment, not strict jail time and harsh sentencing, which only make the problem worse.

According to a report by the Sun Sentinel, two undercover police officers used unmarked cars in the set-up in which the 17-year-old Palm Beach boy sold crack cocaine and pills to the deputies posing as drug buyers. After the initial transaction, one of the undercover officers pulled $80 from his pocket, at which point the boy snatched the money, before eventually handing over more crack cocaine to the officer.

The boy was also arrested back on September 1st on a charge of resisting arrest without violence. Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know that from one perspective, this young man has a quite a rap sheet and is on his way to being a lifelong criminal. However, because we have combined decades of experience in the criminal justice system, first as prosecutors and now as defense attorneys, we know that just because somebody is involved in a lifestyle, by their own choice or not, they aren’t necessarily defined by the lifestyle.

Case in point: we have no idea why this 17-year-old boy is involved in the world of selling drugs. Perhaps he was forced to do it under threat of violence. Perhaps he was taught as a young child that selling drugs is a respectable way to earn a living. The point is that none of us — not the officers who arrested him, not the lawyers who will prosecute and defend him, and not the jury members who will decide his fate — know his the circumstances that might have led him to commit the crime.

Convicting and punishing this young man does no good. Contrary to popular opinion, negative reinforcement does not yield long-term results. Locking someone up and then releasing them into the public with a criminal record affixed to them like a scarlet letter harms not only the offender but also those in the general population. Being a convicted criminal makes it difficult if not outright impossible to find a (legal) job, earn a wage and contribute to society. Unable to secure a job, because of one’s criminal record, many individuals turn back to criminal activity such as selling drugs to earn a living, and the vicious cycle continues.

What can break the cycle is true rehabilitation; whether it is an issue of substance abuse or another matter, psychology and educational approaches can go a long way in curbing behavior. Simply locking someone in a prison cell won’t fix the underlying issues that lead to the criminal behavior. In order to stop the acting-out, we must treat the issues that cause the behavior. Understanding these individuals as people, just like us, is the first step. Disregarding them as hopeless criminals won’t do anybody any good.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal defense issue, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact us at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert to schedule a free consultation. You can reach us by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to speaking with you.

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