Supreme Court Bans Execution of Juvenile Offenders

By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared the execution of juvenile offenders to be unconstitutional. Today's historic ruling in Roper v. Simmons holds that this practice violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The decision will result in a new sentence for Christopher Simmons and likely new sentences for the 71 other juvenile offenders currently on state death rows across the country. Simmons' position was joined by many professional organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Bar Association, and by numerous countries from around the world. Prior to today's ruling, 19 states with the death penalty prohibited the execution of juvenile offenders. Twenty-two inmates have been executed for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

NEW RESOURCE: Study Examines Mental Status and Childhood Backgrounds of Juveniles on Death Row

A recent study of 18 juvenile offenders on death row in Texas found that nearly all participants experienced serious head traumas in childhood and adolescence, came from extremely violent and/or abusive families, had one or more severe mental illnesses, and had signs of prefrontal brain dysfunction. The study, conducted by Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis of Yale along with other experts, suggests that most of the juvenile offenders on America's death rows suffer from serious conditions which "substantially exacerbate the already existing vulnerabilities of youth." In the study, Dr. Lewis and her colleagues reviewed all available medical, psychological, educational, social, and family data for each participant to clarify the ways in which these various aspects of development may have diminished a juvenile offender's judgment and self control.

Arizona Case Exposes Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

In an examination of the case against three men sentenced to death for a triple murder that occurred in Tucson's El Grande Market, reporter Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker describes the incidents that led to the fall of the lead prosecutor, Kenneth Peasley, for presenting false evidence in the case. Only one of the co-defendants, Martin Soto-Fong, remains on Arizona's death row. Of the other two defendants, Christopher McCrimmon was acquitted at a re-trial in 1997, and Andre Minnett had his conviction reversed in 1996, with subsequent prosecution barred on double jeopardy grounds in 2002 because of Peasely's intentional misconduct. In 2004, Peasley was disbarred for his actions in the El Grande case. Soto-Fong, who was 17-years-old and a foreign national when the crime occurred, is appealing in federal court and has maintained his innocence. Recently, a new witness has emerged pointing to other defendants and excluding the three who were originally convicted.

Arguments Heard in Roper v. Simmons


Marsha Levick (2d right) and Dr. David Fassler (far right)

On Wednesday, October 13, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Roper v. Simmons, a case that will determine the constitutionality of executing juvenile offenders. Marsha Levick, Chief Counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, and Dr. David Fassler, Trustee of the American Psychiatric Association, were among the juvenile law and medical experts who spoke to reporters following

Former President Leads Worldwide Call For An End To Juvenile Death Penalty


The U. S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday, October 13, 2004, in Roper v. Simmons to determine the future of the juvenile death penalty.  Amicus briefs in support of banning the practice have been filed by many prominent groups and individals, including:
  • Nobel Peace Prize Winners (including Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa)

Ryan Matthews is Latest Exonoree


On Monday, August 9, 2004, Ryan Matthews became the latest death row inmate to be freed, and the 14th exonerated with the help of DNA evidence. Matthews was sentenced to die in 1999 and spent nearly five years on death row before being cleared of a murder that occurred just two weeks after his 17th birthday.

Matthews' appellate attorneys had physical evidence from his trial

Crime, Culpability and the Adolescent Brain

Science Magazine
Friday, July 30, 2004:  VOL 305 30 JULY 2004 599 CREDIT: CORBIS

By Mary Beckman


Crime, Culpability and the Adolescent Brain

This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether capital crimes by teenagers under 18 should get the death sentence; the case for leniency is based in part on brain studies.

Deadline Premiers on NBC's Dateline; Supreme Court Accepts Amicus Briefs in Roper v Simmons


On July 19, 2004, amicus briefs in support of ending the execution of juvenile offenders were filed in Roper v. Simmons (No. 03-0633) that will decide whether the execution of juvenile defendants is a violation of the Eighth Ammendment. In addition to the defendant's brief, amicus briefs were submitted by such notables as President Jimmy