Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Jenny E. Carroll (University of Alabama - School of Law) has posted Brain Science and the Theory of Juvenile Mens Rea (North Carolina Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The law has long recognized the distinction between adults and children. A legally designated age determines who can vote, exercise reproductive rights, voluntarily discontinue their education, buy alcohol or tobacco, marry, drive a car, or obtain a tattoo. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld such age-based restrictions, most recently constructing an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence that bars the application of certain penalties to juvenile offenders. In the cases of Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, the Court's jurisprudence of youth relies on emerging neuroscience to confirm what the parents of any teenager have long suspected: adolescents' cognitive abilities and thought processes differ from their adult counterparts. Children are different than adults.
In these rulings, the Court recognized that brain development affects the legal construct of culpability and so should affect punishment. The Court reasoned that without mature thought processes and cognitive abilities, adolescents as a class fail to achieve the requisite level of culpability demonstrated in adult offenders. As such, juveniles were categorically spared the death penalty and, in some instances, a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. To date, the Court has limited the application of this principle to punishment. The logic of the Court's decisions, however, applies just as strongly to the application of substantive criminal law. Just as modern neuroscience counsels against the imposition of certain penalties on juvenile offenders, so it counsels toward a reconsideration of culpability as applied to juvenile offenders through the element of mens rea. In this paper I argue that the failure to extend this jurisprudence of youth to the mental element undermines the very role of mens rea as a mechanism to determine guilt.