Reckless Juveniles

36 Pages Posted: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Kimberly Thomas

Kimberly Thomas

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: 2019


Recklessness is a core mens rea in criminal law, found in offenses from murder to destruction of property to bad driving. This article calls into question – at least for youth – the ability to find defendants culpable for offenses requiring this foundational mens rea.

In this article, I examine recklessness doctrine in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that treat juveniles as categorically different from adults, and in light of modern research about adolescent development. These shifts force an inspection of whether youth can be held for offenses which involve “foresight” and appreciation of risk – recklessness and the natural-and-probable-consequences doctrine. The article concludes that recklessness – at least for young defendants – cannot stand. In light of the precedent and research, these defendants cannot be assumed to act in the way that the law requires. The article also proposes ways to implement this new “reckless juveniles” doctrine.

Keywords: criminal law, juvenile law, youth, risk-taking

JEL Classification: K4

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Kimberly, Reckless Juveniles (2019). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 3 (2019): 1665-1699, U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 628, Available at SSRN:

Kimberly Thomas (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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