Recent Public Opinion on the Juvenile Death Penalty



Polling Reveals Only a Minority of Americans Supports Execution of Juvenile Offenders
A series of public opinion polls reveals that only about a third of Americans support the death penalty as applied to those who are under the age of 18 at the time of their crime. Recent survey results include the following:
  • A fall 2001 National Opinion Research Center poll found that while 62% of respondents favored the death penalty in general, only 34% supported the execution of juvenile offenders. In a series of follow-up questions that further probed respondents about their positions, it was determined that the opposition to the juvenile death penalty is firmer (89.5% of respondents did not change their position) than support for the death penalty generally (67% unchanged after follow-up questions).
  • A similar 2001 poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates revealed that while 72% of those polled supported the death penalty, only 38% supported it when applied to "juveniles younger than 18."
  • A May 2002 Gallup poll found 72% support for capital punishment in general, but that support dropped to 26% for juveniles convicted of murder, 19% for the mentally ill, and 13% for the mentally retarded.
(Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey, National Opinion Research Center, Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2003)

ABC Poll Shows Public Opposed to Death Penalty for Malvo

A new poll conducted by ABC News revealed that only 37% of the public supports the death penalty for Lee Boyd Malvo, who was recently convicted of murder in Virginia. Malvo was 17 at the time of a series of shootings in the Washington, DC area. 52% of respondents preferred a sentence of life without parole for Malvo. Even stronger opposition to the death penalty for juveniles in general was revealed in the same poll: only 21% were in favor of the death penalty for juveniles, versus the 62% who preferred the sentence of life without parole. The poll was conducted Dec. 10-14 (ABC News, Dec. 19, 2003).

CNN / Time Magazine Poll Shows Wide Difference on Death Penalty for Adult Sniper Defendant Compared to Juvenile
A Harris Interactive survey for CNN and Time magazine found that 51% of respondents supported the death penalty for suspected Beltway sniper John Lee Malvo (who was a juvenile at the time of the crime) if he is found guilty; 43 % favored life in prison. A higher percentage (72%) of respondents supported the death penalty for suspect John Allen Muhammad, with 23% favoring life in prison. (National Journal, November 2, 2002)

Gallup Poll Probes National Opinion on the Death Penalty
The most recent national death penalty poll conducted by the Gallup Organization found that, while the majority of Americans support capital punishment, they oppose executing those who are mentally retarded, mentally ill, or who are juveniles at the time of their crime. Only about half of Americans believe the death penalty is applied fairly. The poll found that 69% of Americans oppose capital punishment for juvenile offenders. (Gallup News Service, May 20, 2002). To see the complete results of this poll, visit the Gallup Web site (this link requires a subscription).


ARIZONA: Arizonans Support Exempting Juveniles and those with Mental Retardation from Execution; Favor Moratorium.
A poll by the Behavior Research Center found that support for the death penalty in Arizona drops significantly when specific circumstances are introduced. Among the poll findings is that 42% oppose the death penalty if the convicted murderer is a juvenile offender, while only 37% support such use. (Behavior Research Center, July 2000).

GEORGIA: Georgians Oppose Juvenile Death Penalty
A recent University of Georgia poll found that 60% of Georgians favor trying to rehabilitate young criminals rather than executing them. Only 23% of respondents said courts should be allowed to give children the death penalty. In addition, 81% of those polled believe that judges should be granted greater flexibility when dealing with convicted children than the mandatory sentencing rules used for adults. Currently, Georgia law requires juveniles ages 13 to 18-years-old to be tried in adult court and face adult penalties when they are accused of seven violent crimes, such as murder and rape. (The Augusta Chronicle, January 17, 2003)

KENTUCKY: Majority of Kentuckians Oppose Juvenile Death Penalty
A poll by the University of Kentucky's Survey Research Center found that 63% of respondents said they strongly favor or somewhat favor legislation that would allow the death penalty only for those 18 years or older; 32% somewhat oppose or strongly oppose such legislation. (The Courier-Journal, October 25, 2002)

OKLAHOMA: Oklahomans Support Ban on Execution of Juvenile Offenders

A recent poll of Oklahoma residents revealed that 62.8% of those surveyed would support a legislative ban on the execution of juvenile offenders if the alternative sentencing option of life without the possibility of parole were offered. The polling results were released shortly before Oklahoma carried out the execution of a juvenile offender, Scott Allen Hain. (The Oklahoman, April 3, 2003)