America’s kids have racked up some big wins in the nation’s most august court. The victory lap began in 2005 when the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles. (Roper v. Simons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).) In 2010, the Court barred mandatory life without parole for juveniles, except those convicted of murder. (Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010).) Two years later, the Court eliminated this exclusion, reasoning that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release violates juveniles’ constitutional protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012).)
The justices’ decisions in these and other cases were based in large part on a body of research that has established important cognitive and other differences between children and adults, especially in the areas of reasoning and impulse control. (See, e.g., Kayla Pope et al., Developmental Neuroscience and the Courts: How Science Is Influencing the Disposition of Juvenile Offenders, 51 J. Am. Acad. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 341 (2012).) These studies provide a sound empirical basis for concluding that juveniles are less blameworthy for their criminal conduct than adults, and thus less deserving of the harshest punishments.