that the distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications for imposing the
harshest sentences on juvenile offenders, even when they commit terrible crimes.” 11 Beginning
with Roper in 2005, each of these seminal cases expanded upon its predecessor’s finding that
juveniles should be treated differently than adults at sentencing. 12 While much of the focus of
these cases surrounds the issue of a juvenile defendant’s diminished culpability, 13 the final
message is that sentencing decisions for children should be made on a case-by-case basis. 14
A. Roper v. Simmons – The End of the Death Penalty for Juveniles
Roper was the first significant case in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized and
embraced the legal relevance of new developmental research that explains the differences
between juveniles and adults. 15 In Roper, the Supreme Court acknowledged three principal
differences between juveniles and adults as a basis for declaring the death penalty
unconstitutional for juvenile offenders who are under the age of eighteen at the time of the
crime. 16 These differences included that juveniles, when compared to adults, 1) have a “lack of
maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility”; 17 2) “are more vulnerable or susceptible
to negative influences and outside pressures”; 18 and 3) have a less-developed character. 19 The
Court grounded these differences in brain development and social science research explaining
that adolescence is a period of growth and is characterized by risk-taking, impulsiveness, and a
lack of consideration of future consequences. 20
According to the research, juveniles make decisions differently than adults as a result of
“psychosocial immaturity.” 21 The scientific evidence relied upon in Roper revealed four relevant
psychosocial factors— 1) susceptibility to peer influence; 2) attitudes toward and perception of
risk; 3) future orientation; and 4) the capacity for self-management— that “continue to develop
10 Miller, 132 S. Ct. 2455.
11 See id. at 2464-65 (summarizing and agreeing with the reasoning in Roper and Graham that children are different from adults).
12 Id. at 2464; Aryn Seiler, Note & Comment, Buried Alive: The Constitutional Question of Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders
Convicted of Homicide, 17 LEWIS & CLARK L. REV. 293, 296 (2013).
13 Seiler, supra note 12, at 295-96.
14 Marsha Levick et al., The Eighth Amendment Evolves: Defining Cruel and Unusual Punishment Through the Lens of Childhood and
Adolescence, 15 U. PA. J.L. & SOC. CHANGE 285, 305 (2012) (“[T]he [Supreme] Court’s reluctance to impose adult sentences on
juveniles derives from its growing belief that punishment for youth must be individualized.”).
15 Id. at 290-91; see Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2464 (explaining that Roper and Graham were “the first set of cases . . . [that] establish that
children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” by looking at youth development).
16 Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 568-69 (2005); Robert G. Schwartz, Age-Appropriate Charging and Sentencing, CRIM. JUST., Fall
2012, at 49, 49.
17 Roper, 543 U.S. at 569. “[A]dolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.” Id.
(quoting Jeffrey Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 DEVELOPMENTAL REV. 339, 339
18 Id. “This [difference between adults and juveniles] is explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less
control, or less experience with control, over their own environment.” Id. (citing Laurence Steinberg & Elizabeth S. Scott, Less Guilty
by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty, 58 AM.
PSYCHOLOGIST 1009, 1014 (2003)).
19 Id. at 570. The Court elaborated that character refers to the personality of juveniles, referring to the work of the psychologist Erik
Erikson, which states “[t]he personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed.” Id.
20 Id. To explain the differences between adults and children, the Court in Roper cited Jeffrey Arnett, Reckless Behavior in
Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 DEVELOPMENTAL REV. 339, 339 (1992) and Laurence Steinberg & Elizabeth S. Scott,
Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty, 58
AM. PSYCHOLOGIST 1009, 1014 (2003). Roper, 543 U.S. at 569-70.
21 See Steinberg & Scott, supra note 20, at 1012 (commenting that “psychosocial immaturity” relates to judgment and decision
making). The four major dimensions of “psychosocial immaturity” are: “(a) susceptibility to peer influence, (b) attitudes toward and
perception of risk, (c) future orientation, and (d) the capacity for self management.” Id. “[E]ven when teenagers’ cognitive capacities
come close to those of adults, adolescent judgment and their actual decisions may differ from that of adults as a result of psychosocial
immaturity.” Id. Psychosocial development is the theory by Erik Erikson of the stages of child development. See Erikson’s Stages of
Psychosocial Development, ALLPSYCH ONLINE, http://allpsych.com/psychology101/social_development.html (last updated Nov. 29,