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Penal Proportionality for the Young Offender: Notes on Immaturity, Capacity, and Diminished Responsibility (From Youth on Trial: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice, P 271-289, 2000, Thomas Grisso and Robert G. Schwartz, eds.)

NCJ Number
Franklin E. Zimring
Date Published
19 pages
This chapter considers one set of subjective personal factors that influence the extent to which adolescent defendants deserve punishment for particular blameworthy acts.
The author argues that even when a particular juvenile has the cognitive capacities and social controls necessary to be eligible for punishment, immaturity should continue to be a mitigating circumstance for some time. Part I of the chapter constructs mutually exclusive definitions of "capacity" and "diminished responsibility" to avoid a persistent confusion between threshold issues of capacity and issues regarding the proper level of punishment for an immature offender. Part II argues that juveniles courts in the United States have been a recognized part of a punishment system for at least a generation. Part III first distinguishes between two separate reasons for lesser punishment for the immature (penal proportionality and theories of youth as a protected and privileged status). The diminished-responsibility doctrine in penal theory is then developed at some length and contrasted with changes in adolescent punishment based on youth policy. Part IV addresses the relationship between assumptions about immaturity that animate various concepts of diminished responsibility and other legal doctrines that govern adolescence in modern industrial states. 1 figure and 13 references