Zoe Jordan

Volume 71, Issue 1, 197-228

Although adulthood legally begins at age eighteen, young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one are distinct from the rest of the adult population. Many studies conducted over the last two decades have revealed that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for social and emotional maturity as well as impulse control, is not fully developed until near the age of twenty-five. Thus, young adults have a neurobiologically-compromised ability to exercise self-control, adequately consider the consequences of their actions, and resist coercive pressures from others. Notably, the California Legislature has acknowledged the need to treat young adults differently than the rest of the adult population by enacting laws and programs that take their developmental deficiencies into account. Through these various enactments, the legislature has demonstrated a desire to insulate and aid this age group even though they are considered adults under the law. Despite giving these added protections and assistance, the California Legislature has inexplicably failed to exempt young adults from the most severe sentence our criminal justice system has to offer: capital punishment—a sentence traditionally reserved for the most culpable individuals who commit the most egregious crimes. Based on the diminished culpability of young adults and the legislature’s own measures to offer additional assistance to these young adults, this Note proposes that the minimum age at which a California citizen should be eligible for capital punishment should be raised from eighteen to twenty-one.