Juveniles and the Death Penalty

ROPER v. SIMMONS, No. 03-0633

In March 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for those who had committed their crimes at under 18 years of age was cruel and unusual punishment and hence barred by the Constitution. For more information, see: Roper v. Simmons Resource Page


On August 4, 2017, a Kentucky trial court, relying on new evidence about the brains of adolescents, expanded Roper's proscription against executing juvenile offenders to include defendants younger than age 21. In Commonwealth v. Bredhold, the court credited the scientific evidence presented by the defense and found that the same considerations that led to the Supreme Court's ruling in Roper applied to defendants aged 18-20. Holding that applying the death penalty to defendants under age 21 violated the Eighth Amendment's evolving standards of decency, the Fayette County Circuit Court barred Commonwealth prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty against Travis Bredhold, who was 18 years old when the murder with which he was charged was committed. Prosecutors are expected to appeal the trial court's ruling. 

On September 6, 2017, the Fayette County Circuit Court entered a similar order in the case of Commonwealth v. Diaz, the case in which it actually took the testimony on new scientific evidence relating to brain maturation and development.

For more discussion of these issues, see:

The Case Against Execution of People who Were Youths Under the Age of Twenty-One Years Old at the Time of the Offense by Hollis A. Whitson (Revised October 17, 2018)

American Bar Association Resolution Recommending that all Persons Under the Age of Twenty-One Be Exempted from the Death Penalty: Seth Miller and Robert Weiner, Resolution 111, American Bar Association Death Penalty Due Process Review Project and Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, February 2018


PRIOR TO Roper v. Simmons:


(Relies on Prof. Victor Streib's research and reports.  See his final report, "The Juvenile Death Penalty Today" (Oct. 7, 2005))


Age and Race Characteristics of Offenders and Victims

Case Summaries of Juvenile Offenders Who Were on Death Row

The Legal Context

Juvenile Offenders Executed, By State

States That Try Juveniles As Adults


Juvenile Offenders Executed in the United States in the Modern Era

Juvenile Offenders Executed in Other Countries Since 1990

Juvenile News and Developments - Current Year

Juvenile News and Developments - Previous Years

2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001  2000


American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center

Evolving Standards of Decency (PDF)

Adolescent Brain Development and Legal Culpability (PDF)

Fact Sheet: Edward Capetillo, Whose scheduled execution in Texas for March 30, 2004 has been stayed.

Amnesty International

"The Exclusion of Child Offenders from the Death Penalty Under General International Law"

"Indecent and Internationally Illegal: the Death Penalty Against Child Offenders"

Time Magazine Article, "What Makes Teens Tick," May 10, 2004

Scripps Howard News Service Article, "New research shows stark differences in teen brains," May 11, 2004

Wall Street Journal Article, "Psychiatrists Question Death for Teen Killers," May 26, 2004