Definition of “Juvenile” Gets a New Look by the Courts
Who hasn’t done something stupid as a child, only to regret it later? I think it’s pretty safe to say that nearly everyone has at least one story of a regretful decision born of the immaturity of youth. It’s why laws prevent children from voting until they are eighteen, or buying alcohol until they are twenty-one, or renting a car until they are twenty-five. Scientific evidence has proven, over the last several decades, that the adolescent brain is still developing, especially in areas of cognitive reasoning and decision making, until around the age of twenty-five. This scientific evidence is one reason that in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional (Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455). 

Miller is the ruling that Michigan’s Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette has ruthlessly fought to avoid applying to Michigan, despite Michigan’s clear violation of this retroactive Supreme Court ruling. Even though scientific evidence clearly supports that juveniles are not capable of reasoning out the implications of their criminal thinking like adults can, Schuette wants to keep Michigan’s juvenile lifers in prison for life. To date, only about one-third of Michigan’s juvenile lifers have been re sentenced. The rest are being dragged through the courts in endless appeals by the State of Michigan who refuses to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling and by developing legal understanding of juvenile brain development. 

Recent court cases have indicated a further development in the application of current understanding of juvenile culpability. If adolescent brains are not fully formed, meaning impaired reasoning and decision making capabilities, until around age twenty-five, why is “juvenile” defined by “under eighteen”? A recent federal appeals court ruling (In re Lambert, 6th Circuit) has opened the door for the possibility of expanding the definition of “juvenile” to include eighteen year olds. While no definitive judgment has yet been made, the Michigan courts are now even considering cases that would expand the application of Miller to eighteen year olds in light of Lambert.
Eventually, perhaps the courts will recognize that even eighteen to twenty-five year olds have diminished reasoning capabilities. This does not mean that they should not be held accountable for their actions–they should. It simply means that as the courts consider other mitigating factors when fashioning appropriate sentences, they will also be required to consider the mitigating factor that children do not have the same reasoning capacity as adults–and that should factor into the determination of how long they should be incarcerated for their crimes.

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.