The law is pervasive across the life span. The formal and informal rules of communities and nations govern human behavior at home, school, work, and play from before birth until death. Legal involvement varies across the life span. Legal treatment typically differs depending on an individual’s age and whether the individual is experiencing contact with the legal system as a victim, witness, suspect, or defendant. This entry describes developmental influences on effective legal participation among children, adolescents, and adults. Throughout, the term youth is used to refer to children and adolescents broadly (e.g., toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, teenagers).

From 1992 to 2017, the U.S. Innocence Project helped exonerate over 340 innocent people who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes. Over 90% of these wrongful convictions involved ...

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