Understanding the adolescent brain and its role in FL juvenile offenses

Juvenile offenses may occur because the juvenile brain is still developing; sadly, adolescents charged as adults may face steep sanctions for poor choices.

As any parent in Melbourne knows, teenagers are impulsive. They often make decisions based on short-term consequences, feelings or even the behavior of their friends. This tendency can lead to decisions that seem questionable to adults. Sometimes, it may even lead to illegal activities.

Juvenile offenses ranging from drug possession to sexual offenses may be attributable to the neurological differences that juveniles exhibit. The role that the adolescent brain plays in these crimes should be weighed whenever juveniles are accused of crimes or sentenced after a conviction. Unfortunately, in many cases, the sanctions that juveniles face do not reflect the underlying nature of their offenses.

Immature brains, impulsive actions

Juveniles take actions that may seem illogical or poorly thought out because parts of the brain continue developing during the teenage years and into the mid 20s, according to ABC News. Specifically, the part of the brain that controls judgment and logical reasoning is not fully developed during the teenage years.

Due to this ongoing brain development, juveniles tend to focus on short-term rewards, and they may overlook alternate courses of action. They are prone to strong emotions and impetuous or risk-taking behaviors. They often feel less responsible for their actions than adults. They are also more susceptible to external influences, from stress to peer pressure. These factors can put teenagers at risk for making decisions with harmful long-term consequences.

Experts note that differences in the developmental state of the juvenile brain do not excuse inappropriate behaviors. However, it is important to understand that juvenile offenders often do not commit offenses for the same reasons that adults do. Furthermore, a juvenile's actions do not necessarily predict lifetime behaviors. Research shows that as many as three-quarters of juveniles who display violent behaviors simply outgrow them over time.

Rehabilitation for juvenile offenders

In light of these factors, the juvenile justice system often focuses on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Juveniles may be more open to rehabilitation than adults, since their behaviors may be less fixed or arising only due to temporary neurological differences.

Florida law makes certain provisions to help adolescents avoid needlessly harsh sanctions. According to The Sarasota Herald Tribune, the state's civil citation program allows first-time juvenile offenders convicted of certain misdemeanors to avoid harsher punishments by undertaking productive pursuits, such as improving academic performance. However, many offenses, including gang-related activity, violent crimes with a weapon and sex crimes, are not eligible for the program.

Steep sanctions still possible

Unfortunately, juveniles who have been convicted of more serious offenses may face much more severe punishments. Juveniles can be prosecuted as adults in Florida, and critics have questioned whether the state chooses this path too often, according to CBS News. The following facts shed light on the issue:

  • Children can be charged as adults even for certain misdemeanor crimes.
  • Between 2012 and 2013 alone, 1,500 children faced adult charges in Florida.
  • About 60 percent of those children were charged with non-violent crimes.

These figures are troublesome, given the known differences between adolescent and adult offenders, and given the life-changing consequences that an adult criminal conviction can have.

Any parents whose child has been accused of a crime should appreciate the possibility of steep sanctions. Parents should consider contacting a criminal defense attorney for advice on challenging the charges or minimizing the long-term consequences that the child faces.