Why Are Juveniles Held to a Different Standard of Accountability Under the Law?

Joliet Juvenile LawyerFor several decades now, the golden question regarding juvenile crimes has been why we try juveniles and adults differently for similar crimes. More specifically, many wonder why those as old as seventeen years of age (nearly adults) are still considered “youth” in a court of law, instead of adult offenders.

Experts have studied the psychological factors behind such an approach extensively over the years and have discovered a number of reasons why juveniles—including nearly adult seventeen-year-olds—are different from adults in the world of criminal law. Uncovering these findings has helped us to understand, then, why the U.S. Supreme Court treats juveniles differently, holding them to an entirely separate standard of accountability than adults.

Brain Development and its Effect on Teen Behavior

Anyone who is a parent to a teenager or is otherwise close to a teenager is familiar with how difficult adolescent behavior can be. Teens are often impulsive and argumentative, especially as they reach the later teen years. This is essentially the source behind the youth offender’s differential treatment in the law system. A teen’s brain differs significantly from an adult's brain due to development, causing teens to make all kinds of irrational, impulsive, and, at times, downright destructive choices. Quite simply, the difference in brain development affects a teen’s behavior, which distinctly separates them from adults under criminal law.

The Illinois Department of Human Services has reported the following physical and behavioral science findings regarding this issue:

• Youth often engage in risky criminal conduct due to the fact that they make decisions differently than adults. In particular, they have been found less able to engage in moral reasoning;
• Youth are capable of significant positive growth and change. In fact, many young offenders can and typically do stop offending, even up to age seventeen, as they tend to “grow out” of the poor behavior; and
• Youth, including seventeen-year-olds, are prone to riskier behavior than adults. They have been found to be less capable of controlling their impulses, have a harder time regulating emotions, and are less able to consider the long-term consequences for their actions. Additionally, they are also more easily influenced by peer pressure than adults and are more susceptible to stress-induced pressure.

Researchers emphasize that as teens move through late adolescence, their brain development allows them to better integrate memory and experience into their decisions. Additionally, the frontal areas of their brain develop greater speed and richer connections. This assists them in being able to consider more variables and possible agendas when making a decision.

Contact an Attorney

Juvenile offense, although treated differently than adult criminal charges, can still be devastating for a teen’s record, future, and their emotional wellbeing. If your teen is facing consequences for a juvenile crime, it is time to speak with an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable in representing juveniles in a court of law. Call the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today for a free consultation.