Supreme Court Bans Juvenile Death Penalty
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Constitution forbids the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes, ending a practice used in 19 states.
The 5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers and bars states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes.The executions, the court said, were unconstitutionally cruel.
No. 03-633, Roper v. Simmons, affirmed 5-4, in an opinion written by Justice Kennedy. Justice Stevens filed a concurrence, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice O'Connor dissented. Justice Scalia dissented, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas.[Via Scotus Blog]
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)responds to the decision: (by e-mail)
U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS KIDS ARE DIFFERENT; U.S. JOINS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IN BANNING JUVENILE DEATH PENALTY
“This decision confirms what we all know and what science recently has proven: kids are different,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, NCADP executive director. “Kids are different from adults and by their very nature cannot qualify as the ‘worst of the worst’ standard used by some to justify a sentence of death.”
Rust-Tierney noted that a historically broad coalition of national civil rights groups, religious denominations, legal organizations and medical associations had urged the court to strike down the juvenile death penalty. In addition, polls demonstrate solid public opposition against the practice.
“We applaud the fact that the court recognized the strong consensus against the juvenile death penalty,” Rust-Tierney said. “This consensus is further evidence that the U.S. public does not want the death penalty applied too broadly.”
Including Missouri, from which Roper v. Simmons sprang, 31 states ban the execution of juvenile offenders. Of the remaining states, only 12 have juvenile offenders on death row. They are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. To read more about the juvenile death penalty and learn about NCADP’s Campaign to End Juvenile Executions, please visit here
During the past two decades, 22 juvenile offender executions have occurred in the United States, including 13 in the state of Texas. Nine such executions have occurred since the year 2000. Six of those nine took place in Texas and involved an African American offender. he other three executions took place in Oklahoma and Virginia.
More than half of the juvenile offenders on death row are housed in two states – Alabama and Texas – and about two-thirds are people of color.
“Today the United States takes a major step toward joining the 21st Century,” Rust-Tierney said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed that standards of decency have evolved and the execution of youthful
offenders is indeed a cruel and unusual practice. Today the Court sends a signal to the few states that still execute juvenile offenders that this inhumane practice is no longer an option.”
From Scotus Blog:
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that the death penalty "is a disproportionate punishment for juveniles," and thus it violates the Eighth Amendment to impose a death sentence on a youthful murderer who committed the crime before age 18. Today, the Court said, "society views juveniles as categorically less culpable than the average criminal."
While conceding that drawing the line against capital punishment at age 18 might be debatable, the Court said: "The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."
..."The differences between juvenile and adult offenders are too marked and well understood to risk allowing a youthful persoin to receive the death penalty despite insufficient culpability," Kennedy wrote. "When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the state can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the state cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity."
His opinion was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Both Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia wrote dissenting opinions. Scalia's dissent was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas. Scalia recited at length from his dissent after Kennedy announced the ruling.
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