Criminal Capacity and the Teenage Brain: Insights from Neurological Research
The Dynamics of Youth Justice & the Convention on the Rights of the Child in South Africa, Vol. 14, No. 3, December 2012
6 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2013 Last revised: 5 Mar 2013
Date Written: November 1, 2012
Recent advances have been made in magnetic resonance imaging (‘MRI’) that allow researchers to create and study three dimensional images of the brain without using radiation. This technological development allows scientists to safely monitor children’s neurological development over the years. The information culled from this groundbreaking research tells not just how, but why, adolescents act the way they do from the perspective of neuroscience.
Does a neuroscience perspective matter more than civilization’s collective wisdom in persuading jurists to treat adolescents differently than adults in criminal matters? Apparently, it does, at least in the United States Supreme Court, which recently struck down a series of controversial sentencing practices involving children, including the death penalty and mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In issuing these decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly cited the recent findings of neuroscientists as a reason for their decisions. This article summarizes recent neurological research on teen brain development and briefly highlights recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that appear to have been influenced by the latest neuroscientific research.
Keywords: teen, brain, neuroscience, MRI, death penalty, life imprisonment without possibility of parole, U.S. Supreme Court
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