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Resolved: US Supreme Court ought favor sentences of life without parole for adolescents under 18.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/20/2012 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,630 times Debate No: 22173
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (14)
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Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: Opening arguments
Round 3-5: Rebuttals


Challenge Accepted.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting the debate at hand, and I am obliged to negate the resolution and stand with the CON. This case is evaluating the potential decision of Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama over an adolescent receiving life without the possibility of parole for a crime committed. Some observations are required for this round:

Observation 1: Because of the word "ought" in the resolution, this resolution is mainly focusing on the morality of the decision. Legality arguments would be valid to an extent, but the main focus of this debate is morality.
Observation 2: This sentence is specified for adult courts, meaning that this debate round can lead toward the question as to if adolescent juveniles ought be given adult sentences.

With these observations in place, I will move on toward the iteration of my case.

Contention 1: The mental development of juveniles makes such a sentence unjust.
As my case will explain through the sub-points in this contention, the mental development of juveniles is less complex than that of adults, who can make full, rational decisions based on the fully developed structure of their brain. Making a juvenile equally responsible for an adult when their brain systems are less developed would be the epitome of being unjust and henceforth, immoral.

Sub-point 1a: Adolescents are less capable of making rational decisions.
" “The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. “It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”
Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior, even without the impact of souped-up hormones and any genetic or family predispositions."
Teenagers are more impulsive, driven mostly through their emotions rather than by rational decision.
According to research conducted by Lawrence Steinberg, a noted Professor of Psychology at Temple University,“risky behavior in adolescence is the product of the interaction between changes in two distinct neurobiological systems: a socioemotional system [which includes the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex]. . . and a cognitive control system.”Steinberg has noted that “changes in the socioemotional system at puberty may promote reckless, sensation-seeking behavior in early and middle adolescence, while the regions of the prefrontal cortex that govern cognitive control continue to mature over the course of adolescence and into young adulthood. This temporal gap between the increase in sensation seeking around puberty and the later development of mature selfregulatory competence may combine to make adolescence a time of inherently immature judgment. Thus, despite the fact that in many ways adolescents may appear to be as intelligent as adults (at least as indexed by performance on tests of information processing and logical reasoning), their ability to regulate their behavior in accord with these advanced intellectual abilities is more limited.”

Sub-point 1b: Rehabilitation is possible for juvenile offenders.
The State of Missouri has developed the most widely respected juvenile system for rehabilitating youth in residential facilities. It has a low recidivism rate and has received national recognition from the The New York Times and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It recently received a prestigious award from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was profiled in Casey’s Kids Count essay, “A Road Map to Juvenile Justice Reform.” The Baltimore Sun has also recommended its implementation.

The foundation of the Missouri model is an interactive approach between youth, families, treatment center staff and community staff. It takes a caring, personal approach rather than a correctional approach to treating young people. (The source provided below will provide an explanation as to the Missouri system of juvenile justice intervention).
"Juvenile Justice Missouri Practice Model." ACY: Advocates for Children and Youth. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <;.

Sub-point 1c: The adult justice system causes harms to juveniles.
The most recent American study on juvenile suicide in adult institutions and youth facilities was done in 1980. Funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Michael G. Flaherty, a researcher with the Community Research Forum at the University of Illinois surveyed the number of suicides in a thousand jails and juvenile detention centers. The study found that the suicide rate of juveniles in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers. In stark contrast, the survey also found that the juvenile institution suicide rate was lower than that of the general population. A more recent report on prison suicides completed by the British Prison Reform Trust supports the findings of the Flaherty study. Analyzing data collected by Her Majesty's Prison Service, the Trust found that while people aged 15 to 21 made up only 13 percent of the prison population, they comprised 22 percent of all suicide deaths. These studies confirm what law enforcement officials have been telling Congress: that children are abused more regularly and driven to desperation in prison facilities more quickly. Adult prisons and jails are not equipped to protect young offenders from these risks as well, they are more likely to fall through the cracks. A 1989 study by a team of researchers compared how youth reported being treated at a number of juvenile training schools, with those serving time in adult prisons. Five times as many youth held in adult prisons answered yes to the question "has anyone attempted to sexually attack or rape you" than those held in juvenile institutions. Close to ten percent of the youth interviewed reported a sexual attack, or rape attempt had been levied against them in the adult prisons, while closer to one -percent reported the same in the juvenile institution.
The same 1989 study which found such alarming statistics on youth rape in prisons also found that children placed with adults were twice as likely to report being "beaten up" by staff: close to one in ten juveniles report being assaulted by staff. The juveniles in adult prison were also 50 percent more likely to report being attacked with a weapon.

Contention 2: There is an inbalance in rights and responsibilities for juveniles.
The Supreme Court has rightly judged before in these cases on maintaining the unconstitutionality of such a decision in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), Atkins v. Virginia (2002), and Graham v. Florida (2010) on the same reasons for Contention 1, but the main idea is if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state rather than the juvenile, there will be an inbalance of rights and responsibilities. Juveniles cannot drink, smoke, vote, and do many other things that would be considered rights, but once they commit a crime, they can be held responsible as adults. The inequality here is obvious.



I concede all observations, and thank the Con for posing such an interesting debate.

Contention 1: The mental development of juveniles makes such a sentence unjust.
This is FALSE. Would a 17 year-old's mind be so much different than an 18 year old's that they wouldn't be able to know logical common sense? A violent home invasion in my mind, as a 16 year old, is obviously not something that's okay to do. Ask anyone you know that's a teenager, when asked they will say it is wrong. We've been taught through books, through adults, through school, through life experiences, that some things are right, and others are wrong. From this initial understanding, we would be expected to realize that being violent and breaking into someone's house is clearly not a good idea. Another case is the "13-year-old rapist," as a CNN article dated November 09, 2009 states. A rapist is a rapist. If you are being told to stop, and that this isn't right, and that there's no way on Earth this is moral, why would you continue doing the action? Even at age 13, the mind is developed enough to know that when you are told to stop, you should stop, and what you are doing is wrong.

1a: Adolescents are less capable of making rational decisions.
Con would like us to believe that teenagers are more influenced by their surrounding. This point will be immediately thrown out because 18 year olds, and 19 year-olds are also teenagers. Because of the vagueness of this description, we could easily argue that the Con position during this debate is already defaulted a loss because of the inability to hold up this point.

There is no excuse whether it be because of genetics or what, jail is a place where you, if you have not previously known, learn from your mistake. Life in jail is also an example for others. If you rape someone, and rape is an extremely high offense, as is a violent home invasion, and murder. If there are less examples of this behavior and where it leads someone, it will just happen more often. Letting these sentences go will initially spark more and more of this behavior. If a 17 year old, only a month away from 18 can rape a woman/man and get away with it, other 17 year olds and younger will take advantage of the lack of long-term punishment. The act of putting juveniles in jail is a teaching opportunity for the states.

The rest of this argument is a quote about the intelligence of juveniles. Unless Con can explain this more in his own words, it will not be answered, as I have answered the sub-point itself.

1b: Rehabilitation is possible for juvenile offenders.
This entire sub-point is a section from the article that Pro links to. I will argue briefly, but encourage the voters to drop this point as it is not Pros, but an article's.

Rehabilitation does not always work! We cannot promise that these juveniles will be completely rehabilitated at the end, and a life-sentence is the only way to ensure that they will not commit the same crime again. "A government programme that is supposed to help rehabilitate the worst youth offenders should be scrapped as nine out of 10 people who go on it reoffend." claims an article by The Guardian dated August 24, 2009. Because the rate of fully rehabilitated juveniles is so low, this is not a logical point.

1c: The adult justice system causes harms to juveniles.
Considering we are talking about life-sentences specifically, it is not relevant to be debating adult jails as vaguely as Pro is. Considering these juveniles are serving their entire lives in prison, suicide is not a matter of discussion. If they will die in jail, they will die in jail, whether it be at their own hands, or by natural causes. This just goes as another example to other possible offenders. If juveniles hate it that much that they would kill themselves, it is clearly an example to others that it isn't a good idea to give anyone the idea of sending you to jail, thus lowering crime rates.

Contention 2: There is an imbalance in rights and responsibilities for juveniles.
Being tried as an adult after committing a high crime is not the only factor that would make an inequality between adults and juveniles noticeable. There is also the fact that we do not have the right to drink alcohol or smoke or vote, as a "right" is only considered in the sense of a human right. And human rights are provided to all humans at all ages, not just at certain age limits. No rights are being infringed upon, therefore this inequality that Con claims is not truly there. Besides, just by trying juveniles as adults is not the only way to express the inequality. Preventing this WILL NOT SOLVE for this issue.

My Case:
Contention 1: Life for juveniles can easily be considered an example for other juveniles.

You can see my arguments on this throughout my rebuttals, but to sum it up: other juveniles will stay as far away from these crimes if they see people their age or younger in jail for it (for life).
Debate Round No. 2


Rebuttal Contention 1: If you ask a 13-year old the same exact thing, the most common response would be that a home invasion would be wrong as well, but the difference is that at age 13, making such a decision, even when knowing it's wrong, would be seriously hindered by the differences of a brain'c omplexity in contrast to that of a 40-year old. Instead of being driven more by rational thought, adolescents are mostly driven through emotions and impulse, as my evidence has clearly explained. My opponent tries to bring 18 and 19-year olds into the equation as teenagers as well, but the difference is in the resolution, where we are only talking about the ones who are younger and have even less mental complexity than an 18-year old. Yes, 16 and 17 year olds are different than 18 year olds in their mental complexity, and although they are pretty close to the complexities of an 18-year old, the main thing is that they're not there yet. It's evident here that my opponent is trying to shift the burden of this debate in order to include 18 year olds in the question of adolescents attaining life sentences. At the point where I have proven that adolescents are incapable of making rational decisions, that alone should be enough warrant for rehabilitation to be instituted rather than severe punishment. Punishment is necessary at some level, but only focusing on the punishment is not the answer. At the point where a person cannot make such a rational decision, is it really fair for him or her to be given a punishment of a degree for someone who is capable of making such a decision? That doesn't make sense at all.
Sub-point 1b: I encourage the voters to check this point because the link is supposed to be evidence to the overarching point alone. My opponent completely seems to disregard the evidence I put up as well. I'm well aware that rehabilitation does not always work, but this is because the juvenile justice system has not been substantiated enough in order to work. In my evidence, I explain the juvenile justice system in Missouri, a state with 8% recidivism rate in the context of juvenile offenders. At the point where I can find even one example of a functioning juvenile justice system, it means that at some level through some form, a juvenile justice system focusing on rehabilitation can work. If the United States government contains the resources in order to place a juvenile in the adult justice system with adult sentences, it has the resources to make reforms in the structure of the justice system. What my opponent fails to take into account is the functioning of the justice system and why it doesn't work, in contrast to my case, which explains to you why Missouri is so functional.
Sub-point 1c: If we're looking in the context of morality in this debate, as I have explained in my Observation 1, for one thing, we can completely see that what my opponent is saying is immoral: using the suicide of a teenager, an adolescent with no capability to make rational decisions, in order to enforce an ideology in society. With my idea of a deontological perspective in reaching morality, regardless of what the consequences of the action are, the action of placing a teenager in this dangerous environment all for the sake of enforcing social harmony is nothing but immoral. The main focus of harms in my case is not entirely about the suicides, but rather, effects of the prison system to reach the suicide, and what happened is that a teenager has been harmed mentally to the point where suicide is an option. Subjecting a juvenile to such an environment, more vulnerable mentally than an adult counterpart and more impulsive, is incredibly immoral. My opponent only addresses suicide, rather than explaining on the rape and abuse in jails, so it means my opponent hasn't even responded to my point entirely.
Contention 2 Rebuttal: My opponent acknowledges the inequality between adults and juveniles in this scenario, for one thing, but then he says that there's no such inequality between adults and juveniles. It's clear that in my opponent's response, he's conflicted in his own reasoning. Furthermore, he provides no real context for the iteration of human rights, so there's no way to evaluate his rebuttal. Finally, the inequality here is the inbalance between rights and responsibility. A teenager can be held as responsible as an adult, but a teenager cannot have as many rights as an adult. In order for fairness to exist here, there has to be an equal level, and to state otherwise is nothing more than a double-standard.
Contention 1 (Opponent Case): For one thing, my opponent provides no evidence for this. I could say that despite the existence of these sentences, people still commit crimes, meaning that deterrence doesn't always function, and since there's no way to evaluate a comparison between deterrence and rehabilitation considering my opponent's lack of evidence, he can't say that deterrence will be more functional than rehabilitation. I have provided, judges, an example of where rehabilitation is greatly functional, as you may have already realized.


TheBrorator forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend all arguments and vote for me.
Debate Round No. 4


Extend case and vote CON.
Debate Round No. 5
14 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by TheBrorator 6 years ago
lol, oops.
Posted by thett3 6 years ago
Con, you might wnt to amend the resolution. The only reason SCOTUS ought to strike down a law is because it's unconstitutional. The debate becomes a legal one, not a moral one.
Posted by ScarletGhost4396 6 years ago
I wanted the debate to focus on morality, mostly. This is definately Miller v. Alabama, but the overarching theme of question in this debate is whether adolescents under the age of 18 should be able to be given life without the possibility of parole.
Posted by Mimshot 6 years ago
Cool, it's an interesting pair of cases. Are you wanting to have a debate on the legal issue or as a moral issue?
Posted by vmpire321 6 years ago
So this is about Miller vs Alabama?

Clarify plz?
Posted by ScarletGhost4396 6 years ago
Yes, this is what I was talking about. I heard about it in the news this morning, but I didn't know the name of the court case. I thought it was a pretty good topic. I'm not sure what you guys think. lol
Posted by Mimshot 6 years ago
I think he's talking about this:
Posted by 16kadams 6 years ago
pro has many great arguments to use
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