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Teens and criminal law: reasons supporting a second chance

At The Law Office of John W. Noonan in Alameda County, we believe in the concept of redemption.

Especially for young people.

Most proven criminal defense practitioners do, given our deep well of experience advocating for juveniles who are in trouble because they committed acts that were, well, adolescent.

That is by its very definition understandable, right? Adolescent behavior -- by nature, often impulsive and not fully informed, and lacking due consideration of potentially adverse consequences -- is something that is logically most closely connected with juveniles.

It is, so to speak, their special province. When we hear of questionable behavior that is prominently marked by lapses in judgment or a quick surrender to reckless action, don't we most often think of a young person who simply acted before duly considering all the consequences?

That reality is firmly stamped in the criminal law realm, which is why so many reformist commentators frequently voice the need for redemption and a second chance -- rehabilitation in lieu of summary punishment -- when it seems clear that a criminal offense owed more to youthful indiscretion -- and things like peer pressure -- than to hardened criminal intent.

One recent study focusing upon the behaviors of thousands of teens across the world adds punch to the already accepted notion -- backed both anecdotally and empirically -- that teens far more often engage in risky and impulsive behavior than do older adults for the simple reason that their brains are not fully matured.

The bottom line: Teens do not one day wake up summarily and completely evolved as the fullest versions of what they will ever be. Such things take time, with some members of the juvenile demographic learning a few hard lessons along the way.

We believe that malice-free indiscretions that can be learned from should, when possible, be responded to by an understanding within the criminal justice system that seeks to promote the above-cited second chance rather than by a harsh punitive response that mutes the possibilities of further growth.

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