Over the past twenty years, neuroscientists have discovered that brain maturation continues through an individual’s mid-twenties. The United States Supreme Court cited this research to support its abolition of the juvenile death penalty in Roper v. Simmons. Now the Court is faced with two cases that challenge the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. Many believe these studies indicate that juveniles are both less culpable for their actions and more likely to reform; therefore, life in prison for juveniles is disproportionate, cruel, and unusual. However, others caution against the use of these studies in deciding issues of juvenile justice. This iBrief summarizes the cases currently before the Court, presents the arguments for and against the use of neuroscience in the juvenile justice debate, and analyzes the impact these cases will have on the future of neuroscience’s role in juvenile justice.
Johanna Cooper Jennings, Juvenile Justice, Sullivan, and Graham: How the Supreme Court’s Decision Will Change the Neuroscience Debate, 9 Duke Law & Technology Review 1-11 (2010)