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 Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles

AP (and more) 1mar2005

[Are Prisons Obsolete?]

[Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons 1mar2005]

 

Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles 1mar2005

State-by-State Breakdown

The state breakdown of the 72 people on death rows who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, according to the Death Penalty Information Center:

Texas: 29 Alabama: 14 Mississippi: 5 Arizona, Louisiana, North Carolina: 4 each Florida, South Carolina: 3 each Georgia, Pennsylvania: 2 each Nevada, Virginia: 1 Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Utah allow the execution of juveniles but do not have any on their death rows.

Major Supreme Court rulings on the death penalty:

  • 1972, Furman v. Georgia. The court rules the death penalty does not violate the Constitution, but the manner of its application in many states does. The court noted capital punishment was likely to be imposed in a discriminatory way and that blacks were far more likely to be executed than whites. The decision essentially ends the practice of executions.

  • 1976, Gregg vs. Georgia. A Georgia death penalty statute is held constitutional, a ruling that sets the stage for resumption of executions.

  • 1987, McCleskey vs. Georgia. Justices rule state death penalty laws are constitutional even when statistics indicate they have been applied in racially biased ways.

  • 1988, Thompson vs. Oklahoma. The court decides people younger than 16 when they committed a crime may not be executed.

  • 1989, Stanford v. Kentucky. Justices uphold the constitutionality of executions for juveniles older than 15.

  • 2002, Atkins v. Virginia. Justices rule that executing mentally retarded criminals violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens cites a "national consensus" against executing a killer who may lack the intelligence to fully understand his crime.

WASHINGTON 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.

The ruling continues the court's practice of narrowing the scope of the death penalty, which justices reinstated in 1976. The court in 1988 outlawed executions for those 15 and younger when they committed their crimes. Three years ago justices banned executions of the mentally retarded. Tuesday's ruling prevents states from making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for execution.

"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,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia.

Justice Kennedy cited international opposition to the practice. "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime,'' he wrote.

Justice Kennedy noted that most states don't allow the execution of juvenile killers and those that do use the penalty infrequently. The trend, he noted, was to abolish the practice. "Our society views juveniles as categorically less culpable than the average criminal."

In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia decried the decision, arguing that there has been no clear trend of declining juvenile executions to justify a growing consensus against the practice. "The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: 'In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty,' " he wrote in a 24-page dissent.

"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards," Justice Scalia wrote.

The Supreme Court has permitted states to impose capital punishment since 1976 and more than 3,400 inmates await execution in the 38 states that allow death sentences.

Justices were called on to draw an age line in death cases after Missouri's highest court overturned the death sentence given to 17-year-old Christopher Simmons, who kidnapped a neighbor in Missouri, hog-tied her and threw her off a bridge. Prosecutors say he planned the burglary and killing of Shirley Crook in 1993 and bragged that he could get away with it because of his age.

The four most liberal justices had already gone on record in 2002, calling it "shameful" to execute juvenile killers. Those four Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined by Justice Kennedy, also agreed with Tuesday's decision.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia, as expected, voted to uphold the executions. They were joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The 19 states that allow executions for those convicted of crimes committed under age 18 are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia.


Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles 

FRED BARBSH / Washington Post 1mar2005

 

The Supreme Court, in a landmark death penalty decision, today barred executions of people under 18 years of age at the time of their crimes.

By vote of 5-to-4, the court said in a case from Missouri that there is now a "consensus" in American society that juveniles, along with the mentally retarded, are "less culpable" for their crimes because they lack sound judgment.

Execution is therefore a "disproportionate" sanction that violates the 8th Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, the court ruled, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority.

The court had already barred executions of the mentally retarded and of children under 15 at the time of their crime. It had declined to go further until today, however, letting stand its 1989 decision that the execution of individuals who commit crimes when they are 16 or 17 did not offend the constitution.

Today the court reversed the 1989 ruling.

More broadly, the decision continues a gradual narrowing by the court during the past 30 years of the circumstances in which capital punishment may be imposed.

Only seven of the 50 states have executed juveniles in the past 30 years. Only a third of the states, including Virginia, permit imposition of the death penalty in cases involving offenders under 18.

The ruling almost certainly means that sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, convicted of capital murder in a Fairfax slaying, cannot be executed. Malvo was 17 at the time of the 2002 sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington region. He was convicted of capital murder in a Fairfax sniper slaying, but a jury spared his life. He still had faced death penalty trials in Prince William County and in Alabama, however.

Lawyers in Virginia had joined Missouri in arguing that the death penalty for teenagers is appropriate in some cases. In recent years, Virginia has executed three men who were minors when they killed. One of Virginia's current death row inmates, Shermain Johnson, now 27, was a juvenile when he committed his crime.

The court upheld a decision of Missouri's highest court overturning the death sentence given to 17-year-old Christopher Simmons, who kidnapped a neighbor in Missouri, hog-tied her and threw her off a bridge. Prosecutors say he planned the burglary and killing of Shirley Crook in 1993 and bragged that he could get away with it because of his age.


Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles

HOPE YEN / AP 1mar2005

 

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court ruled today 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, violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling continues the court's practice of narrowing the scope of the death penalty, which justices reinstated in 1976. The court in 1988 outlawed executions for those 15 and younger when they committed their crimes. Three years ago justices banned executions of the mentally retarded.

Today's ruling prevents states from making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for execution.

"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," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Kennedy cited international opposition to the practice.

"It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime," he wrote.

Kennedy noted most states don't allow the execution of juvenile killers and those that do use the penalty infrequently. The trend, he said, is to abolish the practice because "our society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the average criminal."

In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia disputed that there is a clear trend of declining juvenile executions to justify a growing consensus against the practice.

"The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: 'In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty,"' he wrote.

"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards," Scalia wrote.

Death penalty opponents quickly cheered the ruling as a victory for human rights.

"Today, the court repudiated the misguided idea that the United States can pledge to leave no child behind while simultaneously exiling children to the death chamber," said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"Now the U.S. can proudly remove its name from the embarrassing list of human rights violators that includes China, Iran, and Pakistan that still execute juvenile offenders," he said.

The Supreme Court has permitted states to impose capital punishment since 1976 and more than 3,400 inmates await execution in the 38 states that allow death sentences.

Justices were called on to draw an age line in death cases after Missouri's highest court overturned the death sentence given to Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he kidnapped a neighbor, hog-tied her and threw her off a bridge in 1993. Prosecutors say he planned the burglary and killing of Shirley Crook and bragged that he could get away with it because of his age.

The four most liberal justices had already gone on record in 2002, calling it "shameful" to execute juvenile killers. Those four, joined by Kennedy, formed today's decision: Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia to uphold the executions.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor filed a separate dissent, arguing that a blanket rule against juvenile executions was misguided. Case-by-case determinations of a young offenders' maturity is the better approach, she wrote.

"The court's analysis is premised on differences in the aggregate between juveniles and adults, which frequently do not hold true when comparing individuals," she said. "Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of psychological development, and common experience suggests that many 17-year-olds are more mature than the average young 'adult."'

The 19 states allow executions for people under age 18 are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia.

The federal government already bars the execution of juveniles for federal capital crimes.

The case is Roper v. Simmons, 03-633.

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