By Alexandra O. Cohen and BJ Casey | February 2014 | Trends in Cognitive Sciences
The past decade has been marked by historic opinions regarding the culpability of juveniles by the US Supreme Court. In 2005, the death penalty was abolished, 5 years later, life without parole for crimes, other than homicide, was banned, and then just last year, mandatory life sentences for any crime was abolished. The court referenced developmental science in all these cases. In this article, we highlight new scientific findings and their relevance to law and policy.
The past decade has witnessed a series of US Supreme Court decisions relevant to differential treatment of juvenile versus adult offenders that reference developmental science. In 2005 (Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551) the majority held that execution of offenders under the age of 18 violated the Eighth Amendment barring ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. That decision moved nearly 100 inmates off death row in a dozen states. In Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court held that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for nonhomicide crimes. At that time, an estimated 100 inmates were serving Juvenile life without parole sentences for nonhomicide offenses. The 2000 or more inmates serving Juvenile life without parole for homicide were unaffected. Then, just last year (2012) in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment. The ruling only stated that a juvenile could not be subjected to a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Therefore, inconsistencies in the treatment of juveniles remain, because these laws are regulated predominantly by the state that allows jurisdictions to impose different penalties on juvenile offenders. Continue reading »