University of Southern California

Thwarting California’s Presumptive LWOP Penalty for Adolescents: Psychology’s and Neuroscience’s Message for the California Justice System


Note by Ashley N. Johndro
From Volume 83, Number 2 (January, 2010)

In California, adolescents convicted of special circumstance first-degree murder are presumptively sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) pursuant to section 190.5 of the California Penal Code. To date, California has sentenced more than 250 adolescents to die behind bars. Recent studies in psychology and neuroscience challenge this status quo. These disciplines suggest that adolescents are biophysically determined to suffer from poor decisionmaking capacities and behavior control. This Note argues that adolescent culpability is mitigated by currently valued standards, informed by science’s conception of the adolescent, and that adolescent crimes consequently warrant the lesser punishment of twenty-five years to life


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