Significantly, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last areas of the brain to fully develop, and
continues to develop through late adolescence and into adulthood. 32 In other words, the
regulatory abilities—or lack of regulatory abilities—susceptibility to peer influence, and poor
decision making capabilities displayed by and observed in adolescents are grounded in the fact
that their brains are still developing. 33
Based on this development research, the Court concluded that the differences between
adults and juveniles are significant at the sentencing stage of the court process. 34 Recognizing
that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole “improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance
to demonstrate growth and maturity,” 35 demonstrates the Court’s increasing belief that juvenile
development must be considered at sentencing. 36 The Graham Court’s ruling, that juveniles are
amenable to treatment and capable of changing, is consistent with the long-standing juvenile
court principle that youth, as a class, are “most in need of and receptive to rehabilitation.” 37
C. Miller v. Alabama – Declaring Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Is Unconstitutional
Following in Graham’s footsteps, the Supreme Court in Miller held that a mandatory life
without parole sentence for those under the age of eighteen at the time of the crime is
unconstitutional. 38 In its analysis, the Court reaffirmed the conclusions in Roper and Graham,
based on new brain and social science research, “that children are constitutionally different from
adults for purposes of sentencing.” 39
Given the distinguishing characteristics of youth, the Miller Court concluded that theories
of retribution, deterrence and incapacitation, as the purpose of adult sentencing, do not work
within the juvenile context. Specifically, the Court found that retribution, based upon an
offender’s blameworthiness, is not a convincing sentencing theory for minors, who are inherently
less culpable than adults. 40 Similarly, the theory of deterrence does not work in the juvenile court
context because “the same characteristics that render juveniles less culpable than adults—their
immaturity, recklessness, and impetuosity—make them less likely to consider potential
Lastly, lifetime incapacitation, which is based on the decision that a “juvenile offender
forever will be a danger to society,” requires a determination that the juvenile is “incorrigible,” a
concept that “is inconsistent with youth.” 42 Rather, the sentencing rationale that works best in the
context of juveniles is the theory of rehabilitation. 43 Grounded in the fundamental differences
between adults and children, the Miller Court found that mandatory sentences of life without
32 Id. at 18, 23.
33 APA Brief, supra note 30, at 27 (“In short, the part of the brain that is critical for control of impulses and emotions and mature,
considered decision-making is still developing during adolescence, consistent with the demonstrated behavioral and psychosocial
immaturity of juveniles.”); AMA Brief, supra note 30, at 23-24.
34 See Levick et al., supra note 14 (“Given the sharp differences between juvenile and adult offenders, rote application of adult
sentences will fail to pass constitutional muster.”).
35 Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 73 (2010).
36 See Levick et al., supra note 14 (“The Court made clear that the juvenile must be given an opportunity to demonstrate the capacity
to change—not only at the time of sentencing, but even over the course of time as he or she matures.”).
37 Andrea Wood, Comment, Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Confining Juveniles with Adults After Graham and Miller, 61 EMORY
L.J. 1445, 1481-82 (2012) (quoting Graham, 560 U.S. at 74); see also Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2463 (2012) (explaining
that Graham and Roper added to the Supreme Court cases instituting “categorical bans on sentencing practices based on mismatches
between the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of a penalty”). “Several of the cases in this group have specially
focused on juvenile offenders, because of their lesser culpability.” Id. (referring to Roper and Graham).
38 Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2460.
39 Id. at 2464.
40 Id. at 2465.
41 Id. (citing Graham, 560 U.S. at 72) (internal quotation marks omitted).
43 See id. (finding that mandatory life without parole “forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal” (quoting Graham, 560 U.S. at 74)).