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August 13, 2018
Spotlighting challenges surrounding an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence defining adulthood at 18
Beth Schwartzapfel has this effective new Marshall Project piece on the Supreme Court's recent juvenile sentencing jurisprudence under the headline "The Right Age to Die?: For some, science is outpacing the High Court on juveniles and the death penalty." Here are excerpts:
When 15-year-old Luis Cruz joined the Latin Kings in 1991, he was a child by almost any measure: he couldn’t legally drive, drop out of school, or buy a beer. But was he still a child a few years later when — just months after he turned 18 — he murdered two people on the orders of gang leaders?
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Connecticut said yes. The judge decided that a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that forbade mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles should apply to 18-year-olds like Cruz, and granted his request to be resentenced. It’s one of a small but growing number of cases in which courts are grappling with what to do with young adults who commit the most serious crimes....
When it comes to the most extreme punishments, the Supreme Court has ruled so far that 18 is a “bright line.” If you’re under 18 at the time of your crime, you can’t be executed. You also can’t be sentenced to life without parole without a hearing to consider your maturity level. But the high court has never extended those protections past age 18.
“The qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Roper v. Simmons, the first of four modern cases in which the court has laid out its thinking on these issues. “However, a line must be drawn.” The high court has not revisited that line since Roper was decided in 2005. But state and lower federal courts have begun to consider whether people between the ages of 18 and 21 — the period psychologists now call “late adolescence” — should have the same kind of special consideration that younger teenagers get before they face sentencing for murder.
The Roper case was decided at a time when researchers had recently begun imaging adolescents’ brains. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI — like the technology doctors use to look inside the brain for tumors or strokes — researchers were able to observe how young people’s brains responded to various situations.... But it wasn’t until recently that scientists began to research what happens to the brain in late adolescence and young adulthood, says Laurence Steinberg, a leading researcher into adolescent development who helped write the American Psychological Association’s briefs before the Supreme Court and who has testified in many of the more recent lower court cases. And when they did, they found that those same youthful qualities seem to persist until the early- to mid-20s.
In one recent study, Steinberg and his colleagues gave a series of tests to more than 5,000 children and young adults across 11 countries. They found that the impulse to chase thrills and look for immediate gratification peaks around age 19 and declines into the 20s. Steinberg describes this system of the brain like the gas pedal in a car. The “brake” system — the ability to plan ahead and consider consequences — takes longer to catch up: it isn’t generally fully mature until the 20s. Steinberg says if he had to draw a new bright line, he would draw it at 21.
“Knowing what we know now, one could’ve made the very same arguments about 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds that were made about 16- and 17-year-olds in Roper,” he testified in a recent Kentucky case.In that Kentucky case, a judge found the state’s death penalty statute unconstitutional because it allows people who were under 21 at the time of their crime to be executed. “If the science in 2005 mandated the ruling in Roper, the science in 2017 mandates this ruling,” he wrote. A Pennsylvania court last year considered an appeal from a woman who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole after serving as a lookout, at 18, during a botched robbery that ended in murder. The court rejected the appeal on technical grounds, but called 18 an “arbitrary legal age of maturity” and said an “honest reading” of the Supreme Court’s ruling would require courts to reconsider it....
Justice Kennedy, who was often the Supreme Court’s swing vote in close cases and who voted in favor of all four of the court’s major rulings extending these protections to juveniles under 18, retired this summer. The court is widely expected to tack right when President Donald Trump’s pick assumes Kennedy’s seat. In light of that, opponents of juvenile life without parole are aiming to keep these cases in lower courts for now, said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center, which has submitted briefs in support of many of these defendants. They’re not likely to get a friendly hearing on the question of whether 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are less culpable than adults from the newly composed high court, Levick said.
In the meantime, Steinberg, the psychologist, says he has been hired by the attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, who faces the death penalty as the accused gunman in February’s Parkland school shooting in Florida. Cruz was 19 when he allegedly killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Steinberg “struggled about this a lot,” he said. But in the end “it’s really hard logically to say, ‘People your age are too immature to be sentenced to death, unless you do something really, really bad.’”
August 13, 2018 at 09:40 AM | Permalink
So this is why I have no respect for this nonsense about the age of majority being too young.
"For some, science is outpacing the High Court on juveniles and the death penalty." Here are excerpts: When 15-year-old Luis Cruz joined the Latin Kings in 1991, he was a child by almost any measure: he couldn’t legally drive, drop out of school, or buy a beer. But was he still a child a few years later when — just months after he turned 18 — he murdered two people on the orders of gang leaders?"
So look how that moves rhetorically. First, we are told that this is all about SCIENCE. It is science which is out pacing the courts (which FWIW, it should). Next we are told that he was a child by almost any measure. But what measure are those.
He can't drive.
He can't drop out of school.
HE can't buy a beer.
The trouble is that none of those things are grounded in SCIENCE. They are entirely legal reflections of cultural artifacts. Where, for example, is the science that shows that beer has a different chemical effect on a teenagers brain than on a adults brain? It doesn't exist because it is nonsense. Fermentation doesn't respect our age of majority.
Posted by: Daniel | Aug 13, 2018 5:35:55 PM