Death Qualifying Teens in U.S. Courts: Clinical/Legal Considerations

Laurence Armand French, Prairie View A&M University

A current controversy in U.S. juvenile justice is the increaseed practice of certifying juveniles as adults for the purpsoe of criminal adjudication -- including those crimes that qualify for the death penalty. At the same time we have learned volumes about child and adolescent neurodevelopment within the last twenty years with the advent of the combined MRI and PET scans. Incredibly the gap between the justice and clinical fields have expanded instead of converged relevant to this new knowledge. Part of this problem is the contravening methodologies employed by these two fields with the dichotomous judicial forced-choice method versus the clinical continuum process. A significant contributing factor here is the public sentiment issue which the courts, notably the U.S. Supreme Court, takes into consideration in determining which offenders are fully-culpable under the law. Significant new knowledge in neurodevelopment pertains to the nature of impulsive behaviors -- those behaviors most likely to be involved in sensational crimes involving minors. Another factor is a better understanding of the development of the frontal lobe and its corresponding role in executive functioning. This paper looks at these new findings and how they impact the adjudication of minors, especially those charged as adults for serious crimes.

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Updated 05/20/2006