Hank Coxe on incarcerating children and TEDx
Hank Coxe was the guest speaker Monday at the Rotary Club of Jacksonville.
From left, Circuit Judge Virginia Norton and Jackie Cornelius, principal of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
Attorney Hank Coxe recalled an event that happened to him years ago on a school playground in New Jersey as part of his presentation Monday to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville.

Coxe said he and two of his friends "decided they could whip" another youngster and two of his friends in a game of 3-on-3 basketball.

Coxe's opponent that day was Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association and was inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame.

The game didn't turn out the way Coxe and his friends thought it would, and he used the story to point out that teenagers often make decisions without properly considering the consequences of their actions.

Coxe presented "When Will Your Child Be Eligible for Parole?" last year at the TEDx Jacksonville symposium. A long-time advocate for young defendant's rights, Coxe said thousands of juveniles are incarcerated as adults in America in the same institutions that hold older convicts.

"This country is determined to incarcerate our children like we incarcerate adults," he said.

Coxe said medical and psychological research has for years determined that the frontal cortex in the human brain is not fully developed until after age 20. Coxe described the cortex as "the CEO of the brain," and where decisions are made.

"Children are not little adults," he said. "Why do most 16-year-olds drive like they are missing part of their brain? Because they are."

Coxe cited the case of 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez. In 2011, Fernandez became the youngest person charged with murder in Jacksonville in the death of his 2-year-old brother.

Fernandez ultimately pleaded guilty as a juvenile to manslaughter and aggravated battery. He was remanded to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice until his 19th birthday in January 2018. He will serve eight years of probation upon his release.

Coxe was a member of a team of attorneys who volunteered to defend Fernandez, taking the case over from the Public Defender's Office.

He said the treatment of the young defendant was improper.

"The government's solution was to indict a 12-year-old for murder. The child was interrogated by an experienced homicide detective and he spent 23 days in adult jail in solitary confinement," Coxe said.

He quoted former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who said "the moral test of a government is how government treats children."

"We must demand a moral test of the people we elect to serve in government," he said.

The TEDx presentation experience was wonderful but also terrifying, Coxe said. "And I live behind a podium."

He said he made his law partners miserable while he was memorizing his presentation, since the TEDx format prohibits using notes.

When he looked at the clock timing his presentation, Coxe said he thought it was counting up instead of counting down. Once when he looked at the clock, it registered a few seconds more than 5 minutes.

"The next time I looked at it, it said 1:07. I almost had a coronary," Coxe said.

The presentation may be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=5bHQ0l5QldQ.


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