The passage of time and the maturity of an individual are significant factors in determining parole. Many juveniles who were sentenced as adults or those who commit crimes at the age of 18 or 19 are not likely to have developed impulse control or do not comprehend the full consequences of their actions. Our courts have recognized that there is a significant difference in the mental processes of fully formed adults and those of juveniles. When an individual is eligible for parole after spending years or even decades in jail, there is a strong argument that, with age, he or she has matured and does not present a risk for re-offense. Naturally, such an argument will only gain traction if the inmate has not had disciplinary infractions and has sincerely participated in rehabilitation programming during incarceration.
Our Courts and Social Science Academics
Recognize that the Age Can be a Mitigating Factor
Case law and academic publications recognize that the age at the time of the crime is not only relevant, it may be a mitigating factor. Our courts, academic research, and common experience teach us that adolescents and teenagers:
- Lack maturity;
- May engage in reckless behavior;
- May be impetuous;
- Such behavior may be fleeting;
- Such transient immaturity may dissipate over years as a person’s brain fully develops and an individual matures and grows older.
Our society reflects this understanding in our social and legal systems by limiting the age one can drive, marry, vote, serve on a jury, participate in legal agreements, purchase alcoholic beverages, purchase cigarettes and other nicotine products.
There is ample support in academic studies that conclude that human brains do not reach full maturity until the age of 25 . Organic immaturity of brain development is a recognized factor in why adolescents may engage in risky, dangerous, and illegal behavior.
Age as a Factor for Consideration by the Parole Board
When one is arguing that an inmate who committed a crime at a young age has matured there are a number of factors in the Administrative Code that may become relevant:
N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11 Factors considered at parole hearings; adult inmates
(a) Parole decisions shall be based on the aggregate of all pertinent factors, including material supplied by the inmate and reports and material which may be submitted by any persons or agencies which have knowledge of the inmate.
(b) The hearing officer, Board panel or Board shall consider the following factors and, in addition, may consider any other factors deemed relevant:
- Commission of an offense while incarcerated.
- Commission of serious disciplinary infractions.
- Nature and pattern of previous convictions.
- Adjustment to previous probation, parole and incarceration.
- Facts and circumstances of the offense.
- Aggravating and mitigating factors surrounding the offense.
- Pattern of less serious disciplinary infractions.
- Participation in institutional programs which could have led to the improvement of problems diagnosed at admission or during incarceration. This includes, but is not limited to, participation in substance abuse programs, academic or vocational education programs, work assignments that provide on-the-job training and individual or group counseling.
- Statements by institutional staff, with supporting documentation, that the inmate is likely to commit a crime if released; that the inmate has failed to cooperate in his or her own rehabilitation; or that there is a reasonable expectation that the inmate will violate conditions of parole.
- Documented pattern or relationships with institutional staff or inmates.
- Documented changes in attitude toward self or others.
- Documentation reflecting personal goals, personal strengths or motivation for law-abiding behavior.
- Mental and emotional health.
- Parole plans and the investigation thereof.
- Status of family or marital relationships at the time of eligibility.
- Availability of community resources or support services for inmates who have a demonstrated need for same.
- Statements by the inmate reflecting on the likelihood that he or she will commit another crime; the failure to cooperate in his or her own rehabilitation; or the reasonable expectation that he or she will violate conditions of parole.
- History of employment, education and military service.
- Family and marital history.
- Statement by the court reflecting the reasons for the sentence imposed.
- Statements or evidence presented by the appropriate prosecutor's office, the Office of the Attorney General, or any other criminal justice agency.
- Statement or testimony of any victim or the nearest relative(s) of a murder/manslaughter victim.
- The results of the objective risk assessment instrument.
While there is no specific reference to “age” as a separate factor for consideration, age as a mitigating factor may be advanced in any number of the factors that the Parole Board is required to consider. The Judgment of Conviction (“JOC”) entered by a sentencing court may also confirm age as a mitigating factor that would support parole.
Our courts, social science, and common experience recognize that the juvenile mind is immature, is not as fully developed as an adults. It has been established that juveniles are prone to act recklessly, impulsively, fail to process the consequences of their acts, are strongly influenced in peer situations, and are simply not fully developed complete persons. Age may be an important factor when it comes time for an individual’s eligibility for parole.
For more information about parole eligibility or other criminal law questions, phone Eric Marcy at 732-855-6004.
Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 465-475 (2012);
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 570 (2005);
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, OAPP Modules on Adolescent Brain Development, Maturation, Risk Taking, Peer Influences;
Steinberg & Scott, Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty, 58 Am. Psychologist 1009, 1014 (2003);
Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 Developmental Review 339 (1992);
N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11 Factors considered at parole hearings; adult inmates;
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