This is the question posed to the CT Supreme Court in State v. Heinemann [pdf]. Curiously, the Court holds that
The flaw with the defendantâ€™s proposal, however, is that, carried to its logical conclusion, it essentially would require this court to rewrite the entire Penal Code, crimes and defenses, to necessitate consideration of the age of young offenders for the ultimate purpose of defining heir culpability based on their vulnerability and susceptibility to negative influences and outside pressures
The gist of the defendant’s claim was that a jury instruction should have been issued stating
that his age also was a factor to determine how he would have perceived the threat. Specifically, he contends that this court should recognize the differences between a juvenile and an adult in maturity, sense of responsibility, vulnerability and personality traits, which make it more difficult for adolescents to resist pressures because of their limited decision-making capacity and their susceptibility to outside influences. Essentially, the defendant seeks an instruction that would have allowed the jury to factor his age into the defense, independent and regardless of how it relates to the age of his coercers, with an eye toward accounting for the differences in how adolescents evaluate risks
The Court recognizes that this certainly may be true, but states that it should be up to the legislature to make the determination. In a footnote, the Court sums up the position of amicus curae:
â€˜â€˜Recent research on brain development demonstrates that structural distinctions between the adult and adolescent brain account for differences in how adolescents evaluate risks and rewards. [N.] Chernoff & [M.] Levick, â€˜Beyond the Death Penalty: Implications of Adolescent Development Research for the Prosecution, Defense and Sanctioning of Youthful Offenders,â€™ Clearinghouse Rev., J. of Poverty L. & [Policy] 209, 210 (2005) . . . . Specifically, the prefrontal cortex which manages long-term planning, selfregulation, and the assessment of risk â€˜continues to develop and change through the course of adolescence.â€™ Id., 210. Adolescent decision making is therefore distinguished by not only cognitive and psychosocial, but also neurological deficits. Id. â€˜â€˜These developmentally normal impairments in making decisions can be exacerbated when adolescents are under stress. Because adolescents have less experience with stressful situations than adults, they have a lesser capacity to respond adeptly to such situations. See [L.] Steinberg & [R.] Schwartz, â€˜Developmental Psychology Goes to Courtâ€™ in Youth on Trial [A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice, supra, 26]
This is a very interesting and fascinating new area of the law and one that is sure to come up in the future, especially in light of the fact that the Connecticut legislature is currently considering including 16 and 17 year olds in the category of juveniles.
What do you guys think? Should the mental proclivity of an adolescent be given its own independent factor?