Study Favors Harsh Teen Sentences | Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney

A study concerning violent crimes committed by juveniles and commissioned by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has yielded controversial results, according to a report published by The Appeal earlier this month. 

In a press release[1], the attorney’s office revealed that the study included a team of eight forensic experts headed by Dr. Michael Welner[2], a forensic psychiatrist well known for his psychological assessments and testimony in high profile criminal cases. 

The 142-page report, received by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office in May, argues that juveniles who commit violent offenses should not receive lighter sentences solely on account of their age. The argument opposes decades of neuroscientific research, which holds that juveniles and teenagers are often incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions as fully as an adult.

If your child has been charged with a criminal offense, contact a qualified juvenile criminal defense attorney at Lerner and Rowe Law Group today. Our legal team[3] will fight for your child’s right to appropriate, fair sentencing in Arizona juvenile court.

Precedence of Prohibited Mandatory Sentencing

The landmark Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama[4] in 2012 resulted in the prohibition of mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for children and teenagers across the country. A subsequent case in 2016, Montgomery v. Louisiana[5], applied this ruling retroactively to convicted juveniles who were serving previously issued mandatory life sentences. 

The court rested its decision on the basis that fundamental differences exist between the brains of adults and children. It also stated that teenagers are, by the nature of their developing brains, more impulsive and more easily swayed by peer pressure.

Dr. Welner, the author of the new study, purports that the decades of research endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA), which supports reduced sentences for minors, is outdated and in need of revisiting. Much of the research backed by the APA comes from Dr. Laurence Steinberg, who authored several amicus briefs on behalf of multiple adolescents convicted and sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison. 

In the book Human Rights and Adolescence[6], Steinberg argues that “adolescents’ developmental immaturity — neurobiological as well as psychological — diminished their criminal responsibility, and accordingly, the appropriateness of punishments reserved for individuals convicted of the most serious of crimes[7].” That is to say, crimes committed by juveniles should be punished differently from the same crimes committed by adults with fully matured brains.

The APA itself has also submitted amicus briefs in multiple Supreme Court cases regarding extreme sentencing for juveniles. In Roper v. Simmons[8], in which a 17-year-old initially received the death penalty for murder, the APA pointed to MRI research[9] which suggests that the frontal cortex, which is responsible for many decision-making processes, is one of the last structures in the brain to reach maturity.

The Maricopa County Report

In the new report, which has not been released publicly, Dr. Welner and the seven other forensic specialists disagree with Steinberg and the APA’s findings. The research, data, and methodology of Welner’s study were all filed under seal, although The Appeal was reportedly able to obtain a copy[10] of the report[11]. According to the publication, Welner posits that teens are not “meaningfully different from adults” when it comes to cognitive functions, including decision-making. 

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office lauded Welner’s report in the press release, stating that the findings would be applied to ongoing Arizona juvenile criminal cases and that “age alone is not a determining factor to a juvenile’s maturity and corresponding culpability for crime.”

Parents of children or teens charged with serious crimes are rightfully concerned about how Dr. Welner’s report will affect the sentencing of minors. Lerner and Rowe Law Group encourages parents to consult an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney if their child is facing charges in Maricopa County[12] or throughout the state of Arizona.

Implications for Convicted Arizona Juveniles

Arizona was one of 29 states with mandatory life sentences for juveniles without the possibility of parole before the Montgomery v. Louisiana case. At the time, there were 34 Arizona juveniles[13] who had been sentenced to life without parole. Faced with the Supreme Court’s decision, Arizona chose to re-sentence each juvenile on an individual basis, only when each inmate became eligible for re-sentencing.

When each of these 34 Arizona teens are eligible, a juvenile criminal defense attorney will have to prove that their clients’ actions were a result of “transient immaturity” as opposed to “irreparable corruption”. 

An additional 74 Arizona juveniles sentenced to 25 years to life will also become eligible for release by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency under the Miller v. Alabama ruling, provided that they make a case for their rehabilitation and readiness to reenter society. 

Critics have argued that there is not enough established criteria to determine whether or not a juvenile is irreparably corrupted, nor are their proven strategies to defend juveniles from this type of allegation.

If the Maricopa County Attorney’s office adopts the mindset of Dr. Welner, Arizona juveniles may end up facing more stringent penalties, similar to their adult counterparts. For many inmate and juvenile advocacy programs, this seems like a step back instead of a step forward in the appropriate sentencing of minors. 

Until psychology and the criminal justice system can come to a consensus regarding the development of the juvenile brain and its impact on criminality[14] and rehabilitation, Arizona teens and children charged with serious crimes will require relentless legal representation to obtain fair sentencing.

Contacting an Arizona Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney    

If your child has been charged with any crime in Arizona, you need an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney[15] to protect their legal rights. This is especially true as the criminal justice system may not always recognize the transient immaturity of crimes committed by young people. At Lerner and Rowe Law Group, you can be confident that we understand the unique factors that drive juvenile behavior often differ significantly from adults. 

Contact us[16] today for a free consultation regarding your child or teenager’s case. We’ll discuss all your legal options and determine the right course of action to either reduce or dismiss the charges. We have several convenient locations in Phoenix[17] and Tucson[18] where you can visit us during regular business hours, Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can also call us anytime at 602-667-7777[19], chat with a representative online[20], or submit a free case evaluation[21]

The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

References

  1. ^ press release (drive.google.com)
  2. ^ Michael Welner (www.forensicpanel.com)
  3. ^ Our legal team (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  4. ^ Miller v. Alabama (www.oyez.org)
  5. ^ Montgomery v. Louisiana (www.oyez.org)
  6. ^ Human Rights and Adolescence (books.google.com)
  7. ^ most serious of crimes (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  8. ^ Roper v. Simmons (www.apa.org)
  9. ^ MRI research (www.apa.org)
  10. ^ copy (theappeal.org)
  11. ^ of the report (theappeal.org)
  12. ^ facing charges in Maricopa County (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  13. ^ 34 Arizona juveniles (jjie.org)
  14. ^ juvenile brain and its impact on criminality (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  15. ^ criminal defense attorney (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  16. ^ Contact us (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  17. ^ Phoenix (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  18. ^ Tucson (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  19. ^ 602-667-7777 (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)
  20. ^ online (platform.clientchatlive.com)
  21. ^ free case evaluation (lernerandrowelawgroup.com)

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