- Published: October 31, 2012
In the United States, juveniles are protected from the death penalty under the Constitution’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. More scientific evidence had turned up to support this legal status, citing late development of many areas of the brain which, “once thought to be fully grown after puberty, is still evolving into its adult shape well into a person’s third decade”. It is clear then, that juveniles should be treated differently from fully developed adults when dealing with legal and corrective measures. The problem, however, is the loose definitions of “juvenile” and “adults”. Different regions of the brain mature at different times, and each individual also has slightly varied development periods. Thus, determining when an individual is qualified to take responsibility for his own actions on a case by case basis is necessary for a fair legal system. However, this approach is highly costly and inefficient, and might even violate peoples’ privacy if a brain scan is required to determine the brain’s developmental stage. To solve this dilemma, the age cut off for “juvenile” vs. “adult” age groups are arbitrarily defined at around 18, the relative age at which a person physically mature.
Since recent research has shown that some parts of the brain still develops past age 30, the age cut off appears more and more arbitrary. Even in regards to murder, only 27 states implement a mandatory life without parole sentence as a punishment. What determines that a 19 years old is fit for the death penalty while a 17 years old who commits the same crime could be eligible for parole after a few years in prison? The juvenile justice system needs reform. Changes in sentencing relative to different crimes and age need to be made to better reflect the youth’s maturity and severity of action. However, given limited resources and technology, perhaps the best course of action is to have narrower subgroups of “juvenile” with different sentences for those subgroups.
[New York City] 20 AUG 2012, n. pag. Print. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443713704577601532208760746.html>.
(2009): n.pag. Web. 31 Oct 2012. <http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/10/02/state-distribution-juvenile-offenders-serving-juvenile-life-without-parole>.