Eighteen Is Not a Magic Number: Why the Eighth Amendment Requires Protection for Youth Aged Eighteen to Twenty-Five

The Eighth Amendment protects a criminal defendant’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. This Note argues that any punishment of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds is cruel and unusual without considering their youthfulness at every stage of the criminal process, and that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment for these youths to be automatically treated as fully-developed adults. This Note will explore in depth how juveniles differ from adults, both socially and scientifically, and how the criminal justice system fails every youth aged eighteen- to twenty-five by subjecting them to criminal, rather than juvenile, court without considering their youthfulness and diminished capacity. This Note proposes three reforms that, implemented together, aim to remedy this Eighth Amendment violation. First, the Supreme Court should apply the seminal cases of Miller, Roper, and Graham to eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds. Second, all states should extend the age of juvenile jurisdiction to twenty-five, processing offenders twenty-five and younger through the juvenile system accordingly. Finally, every actor in the system—including courts, lawyers, and legislatures—should label eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds as “youth” and consider their age at every stage of the criminal system.