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Does maturity matter in murder charges?

On Behalf of | Aug 8, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Most people do some dumb things when they are young – things they would not do when they are more mature.

In some cases, the things they do, or that someone accuses them of doing, could lead to them spending all or much of their life in prison. Remember courts don’t always make the correct decision and many defendants never even make it to court because they feel pressured to accept a plea deal.

Criminal law generally treats minors differently from adults. Yet Maryland bill SB6502, presented earlier this year, argues that in cases of felony murder- the law should change to give more leniency until someone reaches 25. 

It is not arguing for someone aged 24 to receive the same consideration as a minor, just to recognize that someone under 25 might not be fully aware of the consequences of an action.

Scientific research has shown that the human brain does not develop fully until around 25

The part of the brain that controls rational thinking does not form fully until around 25 years of age. Rational thinking is precisely what you would need to fully understand that certain actions could potentially lead to someone’s death. 

In most states, a court cannot convict you of first-degree murder unless the prosecution can prove you set out to kill – in other words, premeditation is crucial. Maryland takes a different attitude, allowing courts to convict people of first-degree murder without the need to show premeditation, provided they were engaged in certain felonies at the time. 

The bill aims to limit the maximum sentence to 25 years for anyone under 25 at the time of the alleged crime, rather than life as it currently stands.

The current threat of a life sentence for felony murder gives prosecutors enormous scope to pressure people involved in felonies that went wrong into accepting a plea deal, regardless of their innocence of the robbery or the death. 

While the bill is still in progress, arguing your brain is still in development may be a useful defense argument if accused of a violent crime.