Less guilty by reason of adolescence: developmental immaturity, diminished responsibility, and the juvenile death penalty

Am Psychol. 2003 Dec;58(12):1009-18. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.58.12.1009.


The authors use a developmental perspective to examine questions about the criminal culpability of juveniles and the juvenile death penalty. Under principles of criminal law, culpability is mitigated when the actor's decision-making capacity is diminished, when the criminal act was coerced, or when the act was out of character. The authors argue that juveniles should not be held to the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults, because adolescents' decision-making capacity is diminished, they are less able to resist coercive influence, and their character is still undergoing change. The uniqueness of immaturity as a mitigating condition argues for a commitment to a legal environment under which most youths are dealt with in a separate justice system and none are eligible for capital punishment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adolescent Development
  • Capital Punishment
  • Crime
  • Decision Making
  • Guilt*
  • Humans