Adolescent brain immaturity may be responsible for many juvenile crimes

Many alleged juvenile offenses may occur because the part of the brain that oversees judgment and impulse control is still developing during adolescence.

Each year in Florida, thousands of juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 are arrested and charged with crimes. During the 2012 to 2013 fiscal year alone, over 50,000 adolescents were arrested in Winter Park and other parts of the state, according to data from the state Department of Juvenile Justice. If convicted, these young people often face steep sanctions and even life-changing consequences.

Unfortunately, research increasingly suggests that the unavoidable limitations of the developing juvenile brain can play an important role in most juvenile criminal offenses. Young people who allegedly break the law may do so for very distinct reasons than adults. Furthermore, research findings suggest that this discrepancy should be taken into account whenever youth face criminal charges.

Emotional and impetuous actions

According to ABC News, research shows that the way the juvenile brain develops and matures may leave adolescents vulnerable to making harmful decisions and even violating the law. Juveniles often experience strong emotional responses to external stimuli. They also exhibit poor impulse control, since the part of the brain that regulates judgment and decision-making continues developing even after the teenage years. Therefore, teens are more likely to exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Aggressive or violent tendencies
  • Vulnerability to peer pressure and stress
  • Inclination toward taking risks
  • Tendency to overlook the lingering ramifications of their actions

Troublingly, some of these behaviors may also make juveniles more vulnerable to giving false confessions. The Innocence Project notes that adolescents can often be manipulated more easily than adults. Juveniles may also focus on the immediate benefits of giving a false confession while ignoring the long-term consequences. Therefore, even juveniles who have never committed crimes may fare poorly in the criminal justice system due to their ongoing brain development.

Low likelihood of recidivism

Research suggests that many juvenile offenses simply reflect the nature of the adolescent brain without necessarily predicting a long-term risk of recidivism. According to ABC News, one study found that violent actions or offenses become most common around age 16. However, juveniles who engage in violent criminal offenses will not necessarily continue doing so once their brains mature. Instead, as few as one-quarter of violent youth continue committing violent acts as adults.

Unfortunately, the sanctions that juveniles face after they are convicted of crimes do not always take these facts into account. The Orlando Sentinel explains that in Florida, juveniles as young as 14 years old can be charged as adults for certain felony offenses. The punishments and lifelong consequences that come with such charges may not adequately reflect the factors that typically underlie these juvenile offenses.

Defending against juvenile charges

It's critical for the nature of juvenile offenses and the realistic likelihood of future offenses to be weighed carefully when young people are charged with crimes. For this reason, legal advice can be invaluable in juvenile criminal cases, since an attorney may be able to offer advice on fighting the charges or pursuing a less severe final outcome.