Juvenile & Adult Mitigation Evaluations
A mitigation evaluation may be requested by the defense to investigate mitigating factors which provide a more humanizing narrative of the defendant’s life. Mitigation evaluations are not utilized to question the criminal culpability of the defendant, but alternatively to assert that the defendant’s life history and mental status reduce his moral culpability and need for punishment. Moral culpability, at the heart of mitigation, acknowledges that we do not arrive at our decisions from equivalent psychological resources, and in turn are not equally blameworthy.
Juvenile or young adult mitigation evaluations require a careful analysis of the role of incomplete brain development, particularly in the frontal lobes, on crime-related factors including impulsive decision making, faulty values, poor judgment, and empathy deficits. Before the age of 25, the development of brain architecture, connectivity, and chemistry is incomplete, rendering adolescent and young adult’s thinking and behavior fundamental distinct from that of adults. As reported by the APA brief as amici curiae, filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alambama (2012), “brain systems that govern many aspects of social and emotional maturity, such as impulse control, risk avoidance, planning ahead, and coordination of emotion and cognition, continue to mature throughout adolescence.”
The brain immaturity of adolescents interacts with neurodevelopmental factors to dramatically reduce the adolescent’s degree of choice in engaging in criminal behavior. During juvenile mitigation evaluations, Dr. Ernst provides a scientifically based review of the role of brain immaturity and neurodevelopmental factors in the commission of the instant offense. Neurodevelopmental factors considered include, but are not limited to, psychological trauma and community violence, lead or other toxin exposure, ADHD, corruptive modeling, pathogenic family narratives, and substance use.
It is critical that the court understands the great body of statistical research indicating that the vast majority of juvenile offenders, even those who commit serious crimes, desist criminal activity, as they enter into adulthood. As reported by the APA amici curiae breif, some degree of criminal and antisocial behavior is indeed normative during adolescence, as a consequence of brain immaturity, and, “both violent crimes and less serious offenses peak sharply in adolescence and drop precipitously in young adulthood.” Thus, upon request, Dr. Ernst draws upon this research in combination with an individually based violence risk assessment, to provide an analysis of the defendant’s risk for re-offense.
For more information regarding juvenile and young adult mitigation evaluations and Franklin Hearings, please review the below article by Dr. Ernst:
Youthful Offender Psychological Mitigation Evaluations for Franklin Hearings and Other High Stakes Proceedings
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