The various governments within the United States have a very unclear view of when a person is an adult. The right to vote, sign contracts, and enlist in the military (or be drafted in to the military) are all granted at the age of eighteen. The age at which one can get a driver’s license varies state by state but generally hovers around sixteen, with various additional restrictions in place at first. However, the age to rent a car is as low as twenty one and as high as twenty five.
The age of consent also varies by state between sixteen and eighteen. The age of marriage is more consistent being eighteen in most states, nineteen in Nebraska, and twenty one in Mississippi, but with earlier marriages being available in most states given special situations. The age to purchase tobacco varies between eighteen and twenty one, while the age to purchase alcohol is consistently twenty one.
Then there are times when legal adults are included in statistics that appear to be about minors when they should not be. A nineteen year old woman, married and a high school graduate, would be included in statistics about teenage pregnancy. A nineteen year old man involved in a gang fight and killed by a firearm will be included in statistics about teens being killed by firearms.
Then there is the age of majority at which a person can be tried as an adult in a court of law. This is where the inconsistency becomes severely detrimental. Although the laws about the age of majority are inconsistent to the point where it is nearly impossible to say when someone is actually fully an adult with all the rights and privileges therein, there are laws that say minors should be tried in juvenile court and adults should be tried in criminal court. These laws restrict the activities of government, and so it should never be the government that decides when these laws should be waived.
A canny defense lawyer should, upon hearing that the prosecutor wants to try a minor as an adult, request that if the defendant is found not guilty then the defendant should get all the other rights and privileges of being an adult. The alternative is that the individual is made to bear the responsibilities but not the rights, when the theory of separating minors from adults is that minors lack the rights but gain the benefits of the responsibilities, while adults bear the responsibilities but also have the rights.
In a more ideal world, it would be easy to determine when an individual is an adult and can therefore bear the rights and responsibilities thereof. The government cannot operate on that standard, though, and a distinct and objective standard, such as age, must be a substitute. Once the government sets such a standard, the government must never violate said standard. If the standard itself is wrong, then it should be changed. The one agency that must never be allowed to pick and choose the rules it operates under is government itself.