Monday, February 3, 2020

Raising the Adult Prosecution Age in California

juvenile justice
Neuroscientists say that the brain doesn't fully mature until age 25, which makes you wonder why teenagers are considered adults at the age of 18. What's more, in some cases, teens under 18 years of age are prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system.

Researchers have long understood that adolescents are impulsive and reckless; they do not think before they act more times than not. The reason teens make rash decisions or break the law isn't that they are necessarily immoral. Instead, teenagers are impulsive because their prefrontal cortex — the region of the brain that helps stifle impulsive behavior — is not yet fully developed.

Consider that one has to be 21 years old to buy a beer, but can be prosecuted as an adult at the age of 17. In recent years, many states have even raised the age to buy cigarettes to 21; the reason for the change is to allow the prefrontal cortex more time to develop.

The three years added will hopefully enable young people to make more rational decisions regarding nicotine. What's more, in the twilight of 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially changed the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.

So, if scientists agree that the brain isn't fully developed until the mid-twenties, then shouldn't lawmakers amend the age at which a teen can be tried as an adult. California Senator Nancy Skinner thinks so, and she has introduced legislation that would raise the age to 20 for adult prosecution.

Senate Bill 889

Last week, Sen. Skinner introduced Senate Bill 889 Juveniles, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The measure lacks specifics and is currently a placeholder bill. Still, if it is approved and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, the legislation would raise the age limit on California's youth justice system.

"We have 21 as the age for alcohol. We have 21 as the age for tobacco," said Sen. Skinner. "The research definitely shows that there's an age difference in things like impulse control." 

In November of 2019, the California Probation Officers Association (CPOA) proposed raising the state's adult prosecution age to 20, the article reports. Currently, 17-year-olds throughout the state are sent up to the adult court. The CPOAs plan would let people under the age of 20 get rehabilitative services provided by juvenile courts and detention centers. It would also offer more youths the opportunity to have their criminal records sealed.

The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), the CPOAs lobbying group, cites research indicating that people as old as 25 share many of the same characteristics as teens, according to the SF Chronicle. The shared traits include peer pressure susceptibility and impulsive behavior.

In the coming months, Senator Skinner, D-Berkeley, will finalize the details of SB 889 by joining forces with juvenile justice reform advocates such as the CPOA and the Commonwealth Juvenile Justice Program.

"This is a reform whose time has come," said David Steinhart, director of the Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program. "It will improve public safety by putting thousands of California's youth back into education and on job tracks that are blocked when they are processed as adults."

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Juvenile defense attorney Katie Walsh has an extensive amount of experience advocating for youths and their families. As a former juvenile prosecutor at the Lamoreaux Justice Center in the City of Orange, Mrs. Walsh has a unique understanding of the juvenile justice system. Her knowledge and experience can make a significant difference in your child's future. Please contact us today for a free consultation to discuss the charges your loved one is facing and how Attorney Walsh can help.