Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2012

Abstract

Legal disputes involving children invariably evoke a complex matrix of issues such as child and adolescent capacity, individual rights and autonomy, parental authority, and in the criminal justice context-diminished culpability for a minor's actions. While it is difficult to identify a clear and cohesive jurisprudence regarding the balance between children's autonomy and children's vulnerability across Supreme Court cases, a series of cases over the last decade, including Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and J.D.B. v. North Carolina, offer a more consistent view of children as vulnerable, malleable, and in need of protection, at least in the criminal and delinquency context. In each of these cases, the Court solidly reaffirms the view that youth lack maturity and are more "susceptible to negative influences." In Graham, the focus of this Symposium, the Court relied on this view of adolescence to conclude that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles who are not "as well formed" and therefore less responsible than adults for their conduct. This holding is undoubtedly a "win" for youth and youth advocates concerned about the increasingly harsh legal responses to adolescent criminal behavior. This Essay applauds the Court's holding in Graham, however, it pauses to consider the impact of the Court's analysis on the delicate balance of due process, autonomy, and paternalism in resolving children's issues.

Specifically, this Essay considers Graham's impact on the ever-changing philosophy of the juvenile justice system, which is often at a crossroads between its rehabilitative, punitive, and due process agendas. The Supreme Court's affirmation in Graham of research on the important developmental differences between juveniles and adults may reinvigorate the rehabilitative goal of traditional juvenile courts and challenge the recent trend toward more punitive juvenile justice policies. However, it may also signal a shift back to a more paternalistic approach to children's law and policy, including reduced autonomy for youth and greater state intervention in the lives of children.

Publication Citation

38 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 17-51 (2012)