during adolescent years.” 22 As a result of these psychological and sociological studies coupled
with common experience, the Court found that children are “categorically less culpable and more
amenable to rehabilitation than adults.” 23 Based on the evidence that juveniles have the ability to
learn and grow, and aligned with the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile court, the Court in Roper
emphasized that sentencing must be modified to account for inherent characteristics of
adolescence. 24 In other words, factors affecting youth development are relevant considerations at
B. Graham v. Florida – Abolition of Juvenile Life Without Parole for Non-Homicidal Offenses.
Five years after Roper, the Supreme Court in Graham abolished the sentence of life
without parole for juveniles charged with non-homicidal offenses. 26 The Court in Graham
reiterated three distinguishing differences between youth and adults that were acknowledged in
Roper, noting that while these differences are not an excuse absolving a juvenile from
responsibility for wrongdoing, a juvenile’s transgression “is not as morally reprehensible as that
of an adult.” 27 The Court expanded on the psychology and brain research relied upon in Roper,
illustrating the fundamental differences between children and adults. 28
The Graham Court referred to research provided by the American Medical Association,
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association,
American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health
America. 29 This research further supported the conclusion that the brain continues to develop
throughout adolescence, accounting for their risky behaviors. 30 Particularly, the brain science
explained the significance of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain:
The prefrontal cortex is associated with a variety of cognitive abilities, including
those associated with voluntary behavior control and inhibition such as risk
assessment, evaluation of reward and punishment, and impulse control. More
generally, other functions associated with the prefrontal cortex include decision-
making, the ability to judge and evaluate future consequences, recognizing
deception, responses to positive and negative feedback, working memory, and
making moral judgments. 31
22 Steinberg & Scott, supra note 20, at 1012.
23 Levick et al., supra note 14, at 304 (citing Roper, 543 U.S. at 567 (internal quotation marks omitted)) (summarizing the reasoning of
24 Roper, 543 U.S. at 571.
25 Id. at 572-73; Steinberg & Scott, supra note 20, at 1011.
26 Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74-75 (2010).
27 Id. at 68 (quoting Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815, 835 (1988) (plurality opinion)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The
Court further stated, “Graham’s age places him in a significantly different category from the defendants in Rummel, Harmelin, and
Ewing, all of whom committed their crimes as adults.” Id. at 91.
28 Id. at 68, 91-92.
29 Id. at 68.
30 See Brief for the American Medical Ass’n et al. as Amici Curiae in Support of Neither Party at 16, Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct.
2011 (2010) (Nos. 08-7412, 08-7621) [hereinafter AMA Brief], available at
ealthOrgs.authcheckdam.pdf (explaining that adolescent brains are structurally immature in areas of the brain associated with
enhanced abilities of executive behavior control); Brief for the American Psychological Ass’n et al. as Amici Curiae Supporting
Petitioners at 22, Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010) (Nos. 08-7412, 08-7621) [hereinafter APA Brief], available at
ealthOrgs.authcheckdam.pdf (explaining that “[e]merging research shows that the brain is still developing during adolescence in ways
consistent with adolescents’ demonstrated psychosocial immaturity”).
31 AMA Brief, supra note 30, at 16-17 (citations omitted).