Effective, Caring Advocacy for Teens and Young Adults

As every parent of a teenager comes to understand, adolescents operate differently from both children and adults. Recently, neurologists have been able to explain how the prefrontal cortex of the human brain does not fully form until we turn approximately 25 years of age.

In other words, people between the age of about 10 and 25 don't make decisions the same way adults do. They are essentially "hardwired" to take more risks, while at the same time being less able to foresee the consequences.

If you, your teen or young adult has been arrested, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Attorney Michael D. Horn has 25 years of criminal and juvenile defense experience, and he understands and cares about the issues involved.

What Is the Science on Adolescent Brain Development?

Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health and his colleagues found the late development of the prefrontal cortex to be particularly interesting because that section acts as the CEO of the brain, controlling, planning, working memory, and organizing and modulating mood. As the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers can reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better. In fact, this part of the brain has been dubbed "the area of sober second thought."

In a baby, the brain over-produces brain cells (neurons) and connections between brain cells (synapses) and then starts pruning them back around the age of three. The process is much like the pruning of a tree. By cutting back weak and unproductive branches, others flourish. The prefrontal cortex then goes through a second period of synapse over-production during adolescence.

The second wave of synapse formation described by Giedd showed a spurt of growth in the frontal cortex just before puberty (age 11 in girls, 12 in boys) and then a pruning back in an adolescent period that can last until the age of 25. The brain eventually consolidates learning by pruning away synapses and wrapping white matter (myelin) around other connections to stabilize and strengthen them. This process essentially yields the wisdom of experience most adults enjoy.

The period of pruning, in which the brain actually loses gray matter, is as important for brain development as is the period of growth. During this period, adolescents make mistakes and act rashly.

Giedd hypothesizes that this adolescent period of growth in gray matter, followed by the pruning of connections, is a particularly important stage of brain development in which what teens do or do not do can affect them for the rest of their lives. He calls this the "use it or lose it principle," and argues that, "If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive." How adolescents are treated also has a great impact on how they will develop, how they will treat others and how they will perceive the society around them.

What Does That Mean for Teens and Young Adults in the Criminal Justice System?

The criminal justice system is, unfortunately, full of adolescents. They take more risks, try new substances and in general experiment with new friends, personas and status symbols (often guns). Currently, adult criminal courts in New York and the federal system only offer youth offender protection to kids 18 years old or younger.

This office, along with other progressive defense lawyers and non-governmental agencies, has been pushing the courts to recognize that 19 to 24-year-olds should be seen as adolescents and understand that their organic decision-making process is not fully formed. While this legislation is pending, our quest is to protect young clients from antiquated courts that view 19 to 24-year-olds as full adults whose impulsive or self-destructive actions were the rational choices of completely logical beings.

Courts have to be pushed to consider programs, counseling or probation as alternatives to incarceration. We often use forensic social workers (including those involved in the highly respected Consulting Project) to implement a thorough process of evaluation, treatment plans and monitoring to secure the highest level of success.

This often includes clinical evaluations of young clients to determine the root causes of whatever delinquent and criminal behaviors that have resulted in felony arrests. The social workers we employ utilize various techniques, including basic curfews, toxicology monitoring and GPS anklets to support potential success and maintain safety.

We Follow the Science and Apply It to Criminal and Juvenile Defense

At the law office of Michael D. Horn, Esq., Attorney at Law, we constantly study the latest neurological research, legal decisions and court initiatives in an effort to best advocate for each client.

We seek to educate judges and prosecutors with the latest data and academic studies supporting the need to mitigate the weak choices made by young adults. Kids between the ages of 15 and 24 are transitioning through a key developmental stage of life, when ideas and habits are in formation. Jail serves as an incredibly destabilizing factor for young people, full as it is of negative peer pressure, insensitive and uneducated staff, and the isolation, depression and violence that inevitably attaches.

The primary option in any criminal case is to find a way to have all charges dismissed or the evidence suppressed. Counseling does not have to be court mandated, and many kids learn from simply going through the arrest and arraignment process.

Unfortunately, in many situations the risk of losing compels clients towards accepting counseling or other mitigation options even when they may be unnecessary. As our client, this will always be your decision. Our first duty is to act as a guide to the law and the courts. These options, along with active plea-bargaining, may result in an acceptable outcome with minimal risk. Once the client reaches an informed and educated decision how best to attack the problem, it becomes counsel's duty to execute that plan in the most effective manner.

If plea negotiation or mitigation is not the right choice in your case, Mr. Horn has the experience, skill and commitment to try your case effectively in either juvenile or adult court.

Contact Us Now for a Free Consultation

If you or an adolescent loved one is facing criminal charges in New York, contact us online now or call 718-777-7717. We are available 24/7, our staff speaks Spanish and we accept credit cards. Our office is located in Astoria, and we serve clients in Queens and throughout New York City.