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Brain Science a Factor in Supreme Court Decision on Juvenile Crimes

Juveniles who have not committed murder should not be locked up for life, according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision today. In the case of Graham v. Florida, the court says it considered brain and behavioral science in deciding that life sentences for most young criminals amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision extends a 2005 decision (Roper v. Simmons) banning the death penalty for juveniles. Amicus briefs submitted to the court by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and others questioned whether youths should be held to the same standards of culpability as adults given research suggesting that their brains are not yet fully mature.

In its decision, the court says it took this data into consideration:

No recent data provide reason to reconsider the Courts observations in Roper about the nature of juveniles. As petitioners amici point out, developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence. ... Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults.