When Does a Juvenile Become an Adult? Implications for Law and Policy
Volume 88, No. 4, Summer 2016
By Alexandra O. Cohen, Sackler Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College; Richard J. Bonnie, University of Virginia School of Law; Kim Taylor-Thompson, New York University School of Law; and BJ Casey, Psychology Department, Yale University; Sackler Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College [PDF]

The purpose of this Article is to examine the implications of recent developmental science for the legal definition of adulthood for ongoing reforms of the juvenile justice system and possibly for other social policies. One consideration in selecting a legally operative age in any given context is when adolescent behavior, and the underlying neural circuitry, can be said to have reached “maturity.” This Article highlights the rapidly growing body of literature on adolescent development as well as an emerging body of research on young adults. The scientific research on adolescent development shows heightened sensitivity to rewards, threats, and social influences, which potentially renders adolescents more vulnerable to making poor decisions in these situations. These findings may have policy implications in several legal domains.