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34 Syracuse J. Sci. & Tech. L. 122 (2017-2018)
Juvenile Justice Reform in New York: Prosecuting the Adolescent Brain

handle is hein.journals/sjost34 and id is 122 raw text is: 

               Juvenile Justice Reform in New York:
                 Prosecuting the Adolescent Brain

                                Cecilia M. Santostefano'

        This Note follows New York's movement for juvenile justice reform, as more
research on the adolescent brain emerges. The concept that the adolescent brain differs
from the adult brain is relatively new in the legal framework. Juveniles used to be viewed
as miniature adults and thereby prosecuted as such. Now, due to advances in brain
science, research shows juveniles are not as capable of performing many tasks that adults
can because of their developmental stage. These tasks include future planning, making
complex decisions, and refusing to take part in risky activities if they will gain immediate

        For a state with a reputation for being progressive, New York still implements
an arguably archaic practice of prosecuting sixteen- to seventeen-year-olds as adults,
despite what the science shows. With a current governor who zealously supports raising
the age of adulthood, a debate that has been happening for decades, this Note examines
whether the science supports this initiative. This Note concludes with the application of
the developments in brain science to changes in the state's approach to punishment, from
a punitive to a rehabilitative system.


        Litigators have relied increasingly on brain science to reduce the jury's perception
of their client's culpability - that is, the extent to which they are responsible for the crime
they have committed. The argument behind introducing brain science is that some
defendants deserve special consideration because they have brains that are impaired in
some way, therefore, they should not be punished the same as someone who does not
have the same impairment.
        Within the criminal justice system, there are many approaches to punishment, but there is a strong
commitment to penal proportionality.' This means the severity of the punishment should reflect the underlying crime
committed because it is the culpability, or wrongfulness, of the offender, in comparison to the culpability of other
offenders, that drives the need to punish.3 A punishment would be considered undeserved if it were more severe
than a punishment imposed on an offender who committed a more serious crime due to a flaw in proportionality.
Impairments, such as brain damage, are mitigating factors that alter society's perception of wrongfulness.4
        These types of arguments have been especially persuasive in juvenile proceedings,
where evidence that the adolescent brain is undeveloped has gained popularity in the

1       Syracuse University College of LawJuris Doctor 2018. The author would like to extend a special thank
you to Professor Lauryn Gouldin for her guidance and encouragement throughout the development of this Note.
2       Laurence Steinberg, The influence of neuroscience on US Supreme Court decisions about adolescents'
criminal culpability, nature (June 12,2013), http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v14/n7/pdf/nm3509.pdf.
3       Id.
4       See Roxanne Palmer, Brains on Trial: Neuroscience Has limited Use in The Courtroom, Scientists Say, In-
ternational Business Times, (Sept. 27,2013, 4:52 PM), http://www.ibtimes.com/brains-trial-neuroscience-has-limit-
ed-use-courtroom-scientists-say- 1412118.

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