- Published: October 24, 2012
For a while now, adolescents who commit capital murder do not get the death penalty. Interestingly, the original reasoning for this leniency was to account for the “changing standards of decency.” This claim seems to imply a change in the cultural influence of our youth, but the strength of the juvenile leniency was later founded on scientific research, research that showed that the adolescent brain is actually still developing in certain areas that govern decision-making.
However, right now we still have a fine line. We assume children under the age of 18 do not have fully developed brains, and those older do. While sometimes it is necessary for a fine line to be drawn, setting the fine line at an age seems inappropriate. Plenty of younger people have more developed brains, and vice versa. In fact, many researchers consider brains to be fully developed by the ages of 20 to 25. It should be that a specific criminal’s brain size should be assessed and play a role in the level of punishment.
I would guess that the concept of brain size making a difference is something the common public does not understand. Why is it that we should give leniency if they have smaller brains? The reason is that the teenage brain is less capable weighing risks and making long-term decisions. Teenagers are more likely to experiment with drugs and unprotected sex, suffer from mental disorders, and have the highest suicide rate. However, as the brain grows, decision-making changes for these people. In essence, we punish them for crimes that they have committed before that have reached their fully cognitive ability. With the idea that punishment should be a tool to protect our streets, leniency derives from the idea that adolescents who commit crimes may not become adult criminals. A forward-thinking legal system sees leniency for adolescent criminals as not only good, but necessary.
Ackerman S. The Adolescent Brain – The Dana Guide. The DANA Foundation. 2007.
Beckman M. Crime, Culpability and the Adolescent Brain. Death Penalty Information Center. Vol 305. 2004.