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Madison resident Alexander Timofeev faces deportation for 'classic teenage behavior'
UW neuroscientist Ron Kalil speaks to Dane County DA about brain development
Timofeev's convictions for pot possession were classic teenage behavior, says a UW-Madison neuroscientist.
Credit:Nick Berard

It's been more than a year since Alexander Timofeev was arrested by the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and told he would be deported because of marijuana possession convictions dating back to 1996. Timofeev, who was 14 in 1992 when he moved with his family from the former Soviet Union to Madison, is fighting to get his old convictions vacated, but has been opposed in his efforts by the Dane County District Attorney's Office.

Dane County Judge Ellen Berz did vacate Timofeev's convictions in January 2013, but the District Attorney's Office asked the Department of Justice to appeal the ruling. The case has been kicked back to circuit court to be argued on different grounds. Berz is expected to make another ruling by January 15.

Since Isthmus first wrote about Timofeev's deportation battle last July, people who knew him in his youth as well as complete strangers have reached out to help. They include a former police officer who patrolled State Street when Timofeev was a teenager, a former social worker, a social justice activist and UW-Madison neuroscientist Ron Kalil.

Kalil's research focuses on ways to restore functions compromised or lost due to brain injury. As such, he knows a lot about the brain and its development.

"The human brain doesn't develop symmetrically," says Kalil. "It finally comes together as a unified organ, but not until we're in our 20s."

That's why teens tend to get in trouble, says Kalil. "Those are the worst years of our lives in terms of high-risk, thrill-seeking behaviors," he says.

It also helps explain why young people tend to repeat misdeeds, even after being caught.

"Alex's behavior was classic teenage behavior," says Kalil, referring to his three convictions for pot possession. "He did something wrong, and then he did it again and again. He wasn't able to take a measured view of what the consequences would be. If that [brain] function is not there, you just keep doing it."

In July, Kalil met with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Moeser, who is handling Timofeev's case. He says he "brought along a short course in brain development." Kalil says Ozanne and Moeser appeared to "seriously want to know about the teenage brain."

The insights did not move Moeser to change course on Timofeev's convictions, but the prosecutor says he found Kalil's perspective on how "we ought to look at crimes committed by people in their late teens and early 20s" interesting.

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