Duquesne Law Review


The criminal justice system determines a criminal actor's liability based primarily on the age of the actor at the time of the offense, adhering to a rule instituted by arbitrary designation of adulthood at the age of eighteen. Solely, this line determines the degree of treatment a criminal defendant will receive within the system, with more punitive measures being reserved for adult offenders and greater rehabilitative efforts made for juvenile offenders. Despite the many concessions made within the criminal system, this rule is concrete and rarely questioned.

However, studies of neurological development show that the part of the brain directly related to the ability to understand choices and consequences, playing a direct role in culpability, does not fully develop until the mid-twenties, three to five years after a person is deemed capable of making mature decisions. This leads to a discrepancy within the criminal system, with youthful adults being forced within the adult system to face potentially negative influences and life-long consequences, though, mentally, they are not any more blameworthy than youthful offenders in the decisions they make.

This article argues that the age of majority within the criminal system should be raised to the age of twenty-one, at a minimum, based on strong scientific evidence that indicates there is no significant difference in the brain functioning of young adults between late adolescence and early adulthood. This adjustment is necessary for a developing society concerned with utilizing the receptiveness of young adults to deter further criminal behaviors, reduce recidivism, prevent further victimization, and create more productive members of society.

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