In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court held it unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole on children because such a sentence fails to adequately account for a child’s developmental stage or ability to weigh long-term consequences. Children are fundamentally different from adults, making them more susceptible to lack of self-regulation, poor decision making, and peer pressure. In Miller, the Court found that these aspects of children’s behavior made children less culpable than adults.
Psychological studies have demonstrated that adolescence is more protracted than previously recognized. Profound malleability of the brain characterizes the period between ages ten and twenty-five. This malleability often results in changes in behavior, unanticipated reactions, and poor decision-making in these individuals. However, scientific findings support the contention that this same malleability allows adolescents to rehabilitate, making a case for rapid positive change.
Individuals between eighteen and twenty-one years old can be considered to have entered a period known as “late adolescence,” a time more akin to adolescence than adulthood. Late adolescence may help explain why criminality in young adults dramatically decreases around the time they reach age twenty-two and continues to decline until their mid-twenties. This article argues that courts should apply Miller when sentencing late adolescents. Therefore, courts should extend the ban on mandatory life without parole to youth who committed a crime before turning twenty-one.
"I've been struck by the upside-down priorities of the juvenile justice system. We are willing to spend the least amount of money to keep the kid at home, more to put him in a foster home and the most to institutionalize him."
-Marian Wright Edelman
Redefining Youth: The Case for Applying The Principles of Miller v. Alabama to Criminal Cases Involving Adults in Late Adolescence,
Rich. Pub. Int. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/pilr/vol26/iss2/4