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Death penalty ban proposed by American Psychological Association for ages 18-20

New recommendation by the APA says the prohibition on death sentences should be expanded beyond the current age of 17 to anyone under 21.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Eighteen to 20-year-olds should be exempt from death sentences, according to a new recommendation by the American Psychological Association.

The nation’s largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists overwhelmingly approved broadening the 17-and-under prohibition on death sentences to include the older cohort, known as the “late adolescent class.”

The APA voted 161 to 7 to approve the resolution, which says the late adolescent brain more closely resembles a teen brain than an adult one in situations of high emotional arousal.

“There is no neuroscientific bright line regarding brain development that indicates the brains of 18- to 20-year-olds differ in any substantive way from those of 17- year-olds,” the lengthy resolution reads. “It is clear the brains of 18- to 20-year-olds are continuing to develop in key brain systems related to higher-order executive functions and self-control, such as planning ahead, weighing consequences of behavior, and emotional regulation.”

The organization played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, which found it unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.

The APA filed an amicus brief in the case, which provided a scientific basis for the court's decision that juveniles are less culpable than adults because of their incomplete brain development.

The court determined juveniles have diminished culpability because of three key findings: they lack the maturity for decision making which results in "impetuous and ill-considered actions,” which, in turn, leaves them “more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures." The court also found that “the character of a juvenile is not as well formed" so that "personality traits of juveniles are transitory, less fixed."

The text of the full resolution is here

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