Editorials Regarding Roper v. Simmons

The Following Newspapers Have Published Editorials Supporting the Abolition of the Juvenile Death Penalty:

Chicago Sun-Times
October 26, 2004

Teen's sentence could be fate worse than death

In 1993, 17-year-old Christopher Simmons and Charlie Benjamin, 15, broke into the home of Shirley Crook. They bound her hands, covered her face with duct tape, took her to a railroad trestle spanning the Meramec River outside St. Louis. There they hog-tied her with electrical wire and pushed her into the water.

Benjamin was too young to be sentenced to death, but Simmons wasn't. He was scheduled to be executed on May 1, 2002. An appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court vacated his death sentence in favor of life imprisonment, citing the 8th Amendment and saying juvenile executions violate "evolving standards of decency." The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Simmons' cold-blooded murder of Crook is disturbing. But so are the details of his life. His alcoholic stepfather sadistically brutalized him; his mother was too afraid of her second husband to step in to protect her child. Simmons was essentially abandoned by all the adults around him. He tried to escape through drink and drugs. The clinical psychologist who examined him said Simmons had a mental disorder. This does not excuse his violence, but it does underline what the Missouri court understood as the fragility and immaturity of the adolescent mind.

Psychologists, behavioral scientists and biologists agree adolescents do not have a developed ability to reason. They are wired to behave more irrationally. In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court determined capital punishment for those 15 and under should be banned because they are not morally culpable. Only 22 states allow the execution of juveniles, and polls show most Americans are opposed to it. We don't allow teens to vote until they are 18; they can't be drafted into the military or enter into a contract until then. The American Bar Association, the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and other legal and human rights groups have asked for clemency in Simmons' case. We agree: He should spend the rest of his days in prison thinking about his crime.
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Daily Targum (Rutgers University)
October 20, 2004

Cruel and unusual

The Supreme Court is looking into "evolving standards of decency" in considering where it stands on continuing the practice of sentencing juveniles to the death penalty. As of Oct. 13, the court heard arguments over a 2003 Missouri Supreme Court decision that said executing a person who had committed a murder when he was 17 would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Other than the United States, the only countries to have executed juvenile offenders since 1990 are China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Since 1990, the United States has killed 19 juvenile offenders, the highest of any of these countries.

According to Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman, neurobiological research confirmed because adolescents' brains are still developing, a crime committed by someone under 18 might not reflect the defendant's "enduring character" but rather a transient proclivity for violence.

This raises the question of what age juveniles should be considered responsible for their own actions and whether or not they should be put to death for their actions if they don't yet have the full capability to judge right from wrong.

A heinous crime is an impulsive act, and fear of a possible death penalty will, in most cases, not stop the person from committing the crime, especially considering adolescents tend to be far more impulsive than adults.

This is not to say adolescents should not be held responsible for their actions, but the United States should look to other factors contributing to their decisions before sentencing them to death.

Schools should take stronger initiatives to council those in need of emotional support, implement supportive after school programs and be more involved in the lives of their students to prevent isolated and potentially violent mentalities. Schools and communities have to take an initiative and step in where many families and communities continue to fail.

In a perfect world, our schools and communities would provide supportive and caring environments for every juvenile. This is an ideal that should be strived toward but is admittedly a lofty vision. Children will fall through the cracks, but their punishment should not be death. Life imprisonment and rehabilitation are acceptable alternatives and will make sure those who deserve it are brought to justice without violating international laws of decency.
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Minnesota Daily
October 19, 2004

Executing teens cruel, unusual and barbaric - Outside of the United States, only seven countries still execute minors.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Roper v. Simmons, which will re-evaluate whether the state may continue executing juveniles. Because the death penalty itself is immoral, the Court must terminate this more particular evil.

The only state interest the death penalty serves is the public's sadistic need for retribution (a civilized word for "revenge"). The death penalty has never been found to deter crime. In an attempt to ensure the executed are guilty, the Court requires so many procedural safeguards that it costs more to kill them than let them live their days behind bars.

Furthermore, these procedures are only an attempt - mistakes are still made. When DNA or other evidence exonerates an imprisoned individual, it's unfortunate he or she lost years of his or her life to the state's mistake, but the state corrects its error, if tardily. If the state has already murdered the innocent person, the correction effectively never comes.

That the death penalty is cruel is intuitive. The question is whether it is unusual. As the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association noted in amicus briefs, studies have new conclusions on minors' immaturity. While there must be consequences for crimes committed, juveniles' lives should not end for actions taken before their consciences, moralities and personalities have matured.

Much has been made of the international trend against the death penalty in general and particularly against executing juveniles. On this issue, the United States is in poor company. Outside of the United States, only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen still execute minors. Normally, international opinion is only illustrative. But in this case, other states' practices are legally relevant as it shows how unusual the execution of a 16-year-old is. Even in the United States, where 19 states allow executions of teenagers, only three have performed them in the last decade.

Executing juveniles is cruel, unusual and barbaric It must stop. If the Court fails to do so, 19 state legislatures must.
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Sedalia (MO) Democrat
October 19, 2004

Time to stop executing children

Juveniles sometimes commit horrific crimes, some unimaginable even for adults. But all nations of the world except two -- the United States and Somalia -- refuse to put youthful offenders to death.

Even Iran and Congo have repudiated the practice in recent years.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a Missouri case that may lead to the banning of executions in this country for those who commit such crimes before they turn 18. The court struck down capital punishment for perpetrators age 15 or younger in 1988, ruling that executions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The following year, however, it upheld the death penalty for 16-and 17-year-olds.

When the court drew the line at 16 for executing murderers, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 5-4 majority, noted that a majority of the states still permitted executions for 16-and 17-year-olds. She said a national consensus existed against executing those younger than 16 but not those older. Since that ruling, 6 states have joined those that prohibit execution of those younger than 18. Nineteen states still permit the death penalty for those younger than 18, and 22 executions of juvenile offenders have been carried out since 1976. According to the American Bar Association, more than 70 are on death row right now. In addition to the national-consensus standard used in the 1988 and 1989 rulings, the court will consider research done in the intervening years about the development of children's brains. Health organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association filed friends-of-the-court briefs citing research showing that executing those younger than 18 is to "hold them accountable not just for their acts, but also for the immaturity of their neural anatomy and psychological development."

While one justice in particular, Anthony Kennedy, expressed skepticism over the mental development arguments against executing those younger than 18, there is little question that a nationwide and worldwide consensus has developed against executing those younger than 18. As states have done in this country, nations around the world have moved in the same direction. Today, the United States is the only nation with an organized government that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits executing juvenile offenders.

While holding young people responsible for their crimes, the United States must join the rest of the world in prohibiting the execution of those younger than 18.
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The San Diego Union-Tribune
October 18, 2004

Executing juveniles: It's time for America to ban the practice

Juveniles sometimes commit horrific crimes, some unimaginable even for adults. But all nations of the world except two -- the United States and Somalia -- refuse to put youthful offenders to death. Even Iran and Congo have repudiated the practice in recent years.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a Missouri case that may lead to the banning of executions in this country for those who commit such crimes before they turn 18. The court struck down capital punishment for perpetrators age 15 or younger in 1988, ruling that executions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The following year, however, it upheld the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds.

When the court drew the line at 16 for executing murderers, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 5-4 majority, noted that a majority of the states still permitted executions for 16- and 17-year-olds. She said a national consensus existed against executing those under 16 but not those older. Since that ruling, six states have joined those that prohibit execution of those under 18. Nineteen states still permit the death penalty for those under 18, and 22 executions of juvenile offenders have been carried out since 1976. According to the American Bar Association, more than 70 are on death row right now.

In addition to the national-consensus standard used in the 1988 and 1989 rulings, the court will consider research done in the intervening years about the development of children's brains. Health organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association filed friends-of-the-court briefs citing research showing that executing those under 18 is to "hold them accountable not just for their acts, but also for the immaturity of heir neutral anatomy and psychological development."

While one justice in particular, Anthony Kennedy, expressed skepticism over the mental development arguments against executing those under 18, there is little question that a nationwide and worldwide consensus has developed against executing those under 18. As states have done in this country, nations around the world have moved in the same direction. Today, the United States is the only nation with an organized government that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits executing juvenile offenders.

While holding young people responsible for their crimes, the United States must join the rest of the world in prohibiting the execution of those under 18.
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News & Record
October 18, 2004

High court should ban teen executions

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in a Missouri case that will decide whether inmates on America's death rows can be executed if they committed murder at age 16 or 17. The court already forbids the execution of people younger than 15.

The court's decision affects five North Carolina prisoners, all of whom are adults now but who were 17 when they committed murders. N.C. law forbids the execution of 16-year-olds. Yet it permits the execution of those who were 17 when they murdered.

We oppose the death penalty because we believe that it is administered arbitrarily. That view has been validated in recent years with the release of more than 100 death-row inmates who were wrongly convicted.

The case before the Supreme Court could, depending on the outcome, restrict capital punishment by forbidding the execution of a prisoner who was younger than 18 when he killed. It involves Christopher Simmons, who committed murder in 1993 when he was 17. Last year, in a 4-2 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court commuted Simmons' sentence to life without parole. The state of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Simmons' lawyers are making the same argument before the U.S. Supreme Court that they used in Missouri: namely, that scientific studies show a teenager's brain is not fully developed until he or she reaches their early 20s.

The underdeveloped portion makes teenagers more prone to impulsive behavior and peer pressure, said Seth P. Waxman, Simmons' attorney. Waxman drew an analogy between Simmons' case and a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that banned the execution of moderately retarded inmates.

He suggested that if a brain deficiency prevented the mentally retarded from being executed, the same standard should apply to teenagers.

As pure science, the validity of that point is debatable. But many rights, privileges and obligations in this country are governed by age and based on the obvious premise that the maturity and judgment of youths does not typically match the judgment of adults.

The court is often deeply divided on death penalty cases. John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer already oppose juvenile executions. Chief Justice Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas support the death penalty. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy are the swing votes. Justice Kennedy sounded especially skeptical.

Ever since states were allowed to reinstate capital punishment in 1976, the courts have heard endless cases determining who can be executed. Executions ought to be abolished altogether. Until then, however, the court should forbid executions of those who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.
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Dallas Morning News
October 17, 2004

Executing Minors: U.S. justices should declare it unconstitutional

Society rightly holds children and adults to different standards. For example, it forbids children to vote, to smoke and to drink alcohol because it intuitively reasons that they aren't mature enough. Now society can prove that children are less mature than adults. According to scientific evidence compiled by the American Medical Association, some regions of the brain – specifically those associated with impulse control, regulation of emotions, risk assessment and moral reasoning – don't fully develop until after age 18.

The anatomical and behavioral differences between children and adults are important to consider because the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a case that could affect the death sentences of the 73 men in Texas and 11 other states who murdered before their 18th birthdays.

Missouri is appealing a state high court decision that executing juvenile offenders is "cruel and unusual" and therefore should be declared unconstitutional. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court forbade executions of the mentally retarded, so should it forbid executions of juvenile offenders, and on the same grounds that their brains aren't fully developed, the Missouri court argues.

The Missouri justices are correct; the U.S. justices should validate their sound decision. As Dallas Morning News reporter Doug J. Swanson reported last week, the United States is the only developed country to permit underage executions, and Texas executes more juvenile offenders than any other state.

It goes without saying that the horrendous crimes that Mr. Swanson described should be punished. However, the ultimate penalty - death - should be withheld when the murderer may have been too immature to fully comprehend the moral dimensions of his action.

Murder is much worse than other crimes that young people may be tempted to commit and should be harshly punished. But if society can discern differences between juveniles and adults where smoking and drinking are concerned, then it should be able to do the same with regard to capital punishment.
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Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader
October 16, 2004

Executing juvenile offenders is barbaric, ought to be ended

Christopher Simmons committed a horrible crime when he was 17. Simmons and an accomplice broke into a woman's home, robbed her, tied her and threw her into the Meramec River.

He should be punished by spending the rest of his life in prison.

His punishment should not be the death penalty - the sentence Simmons is facing.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard Simmons' appeal. His lawyer argued, in part, that a previous Supreme Court ruling banning execution of moderately mentally retarded criminals should apply. This is the same reasoning the Missouri Supreme Court used in overturning Simmons' sentence.

The argument points out that in the cases of the retarded and juveniles, common practice and the laws in many states have come to view execution as barbaric. Further, the death penalty is not a deterrent, especially for impulsive teens.

Countering the argument that the areas of the brain controlling impulse control in juveniles are incompletely developed, Justice Antonin Scalia asked the ridiculous question of whether juvenile offenders should be punished at all.

All Americans say yes to that question. But it's important that we also say it is wrong for the state to kill children.
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The (Albany, NY) Times Union
October 16, 2004

Too young to die?

The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to decide if juveniles should face capital punishment

At long last, the U.S. Supreme Court is revisiting an issue it has avoided since 1988: whether the death penalty should be imposed on juveniles who commit capital crimes. The court last had a chance to address the question in 2003, but chose to pass and let the states puzzle it themselves. This time the justices should come down with a clear ruling that ends this archaic practice.

Yet if there were any hints how the court will vote, they weren't obvious in the justices' remarks during arguments heard Wednesday. It may come down to a swing vote -- most likely by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or Anthony Kennedy -- to side with, or against, the four justices who are on record as opposing juvenile executions -- John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Those four justices share the sentiments of almost every other country on earth. Even countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, where minors have been executed in recent years, are now on record in opposition to capital punishment for juveniles. "We are literally alone in the world," Seth Waxman told the justices Wednesday. Mr. Waxman represents Christopher Simmons, who is on Missouri's death row for kidnapping and throwing a neighbor off a bridge to her death when he was 17.

It was a horrific crime, and one that Missouri prosecutors said was methodically planned and executed. But the question the court must decide is whether a 17-year-old is mature enough to grasp the consequences of his or her actions, no matter how brutal or premeditated. The court already has resolved that question for those 15 years old or younger. It has banned their executions on the grounds they are too immature to understand the enormity of their actions. So now the question involves only 16- and 17-year-olds, and how much more mature they might be than they were at 15.

To try to answer that question Wednesday, the justices listened to scientific testimony on the development of the teenage brain. What they ought to do, though, is ask the jurors in the Lee Boyd Malvo case for their views. That Virginia jury deadlocked on whether Malvo should face execution for his role in the Washington-area sniper spree that killed 10 people in 2003. Some of the jurors refused to consider capital punishment because they viewed the defendant as an impressionable youth who fell under the influence of John Allen Muhammad, who was sentenced to death in a separate trial for those murders.

Today, Lee Boyd Malvo is serving a life sentence, a heavy penalty to pay for his crimes. It is also an appropriate penalty for all juveniles who take the lives of others.
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The (Staunton, VA) News Leader
October 15, 2004

Cruel and unusual

One of the most important things the U.S. Supreme Court will do during this year's session will be whether the justices rule that imposing the death penalty for crimes committed by a person under the age of 18 violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

We hope they decide it does -- and we are not alone.

Before the usual suspects begin picking up their stones chiseled with the letter "L," we would remind them that literally hundreds of national and international scientific, religious, child advocacy, legal and other communities -- cutting across the political spectrum -- have filed friend of the court briefs with the Supreme Court and American Bar Association stating their opposition to the juvenile death penalty (and their reasons why) in no uncertain terms. We invite our readers to use the link we have provided to read more deeply on these issues.

This isn't a matter that can be swept under the rug or dealt with via a two or three-word campaign slogan. While there are juvenile offenders who deeply deserve serious punishments for their crimes, the death penalty should not be among them.

Children -- even if they might look like adults -- don't have brains that work the same way adult brains do. They are more easily swayed by peer pressure, and if, as often happens, a young criminal suffers from psychological and emotional disturbances, the depths of those disturbances can be much worse than what they would be if they were experienced by an adult.

No matter how heinous a crime a child might commit, killing a child in order to exact retribution is wrong. Adults must set the tone for the society our children will grow up in. One of the ways that can be accomplished is by showing them how that society can be both just and merciful. Who knows? Perhaps by not responding to violence with violence, we may be able to achieve a safer and certainly more sane world, at least here in America.
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University Wire (University of Florida)
October 14, 2004

Court must be moderate on controversial rulings

The Supreme Court has filled its docket with thorny issues during the closing stages of an election in which the court's future is an important campaign issue.

The court heard arguments Wednesday as to whether a 2003 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that decided executing a juvenile offender who committed murder at age 17 would violate the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.

The list of nations that execute juvenile offenders reads like a who's who of human rights abusers, state sponsors of terrorism and the United States. America has no place next to China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- nations with few, if any, civil freedoms and abysmal human rights records. The court would be long overdue in removing the United States from this list.

The death penalty should not be eliminated entirely, for it is sometimes the only viable punishment states can offer in response to truly heinous crimes. However, it should be limited to individuals 18 years of age or older.

Executions have been banned altogether or reserved for legal adults in 30 states. Florida and four other states consider juvenile offenders adults when they turn 17. Seventeen states consider 16-year-old offenders to be adults eligible for the death penalty. There are 72 juvenile offenders on death row, and 22 executions of juvenile offenders have occurred since 1976.

When the court's nine justices issue their ruling on this case, they should consider the age of the offenders, who, research suggests, still are developing physically and emotionally and may not fully realize the brutality and gravity of their crimes.

Instead of shirking divisive cases during a divisive election, the Supreme Court has chosen to exercise its governmental branch's full power in interpreting the Constitution.

Justices will take a side in a culture war that has galvanized conservative Christians and strict constitutionalists. Displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings has ignited a firestorm of debate about America's religious roots and the role of the government to preserve the nation's religious pluralism.

Tuesday, the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases -- one from Kentucky and one from Texas -- that will give them the opportunity to decide the issue. Their ruling is expected by July.

The separation of church and state is paramount, and the court must maintain the wall that prevents the government from endorsing a particular religion. Conservative Christians have gotten lost in this case's reeds. The merits of the commandments are not being debated, and the values they espouse should be practiced in everyday society without a religious mandate.

When making their decisions, the court's justices should honor the boundaries between church and state that have kept both institutions strong for more than two centuries. Conservative Christians have argued that this country was built upon a Judeo-Christian foundation, and, while there is a basis for those arguments, it often is ignored that America's founders were adamant that the nation should not sponsor any religion.

In the past, the court has outlawed official prayer at public school graduation ceremonies and ruled that states cannot pay for students' religious training. When deciding the Ten Commandments case, the court should determine that religious symbols -- representing any creed -- are not appropriate in public spaces.

In recent rulings - regarding everything from affirmative action to the execution of moderately mentally retarded offenders -- the court's progressive justices have scored victories. It is essential the Constitution is continued to be interpreted through this balanced, moderate lens.
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Battleboro (Vermont) Reformer
October 13, 2004

Too young to die?

One night in 1993, Shirley Crook was awakened by 2 burglars in her Missouri home. She was bound with duct tape. She was dragged out of the house. And, still alive and conscious, she was tossed from a railroad trestle into a river where she died.

Anglers found her body and within 2 days Christopher Simmons confessed to committing the crimes with a friend. A jury later convicted him of murder and a judge sentenced him to death.

The law didn't deem him mature or responsible enough to vote, buy cigarettes, drink alcohol, drive or get married in some states, but it did consider him old enough to be executed.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether it's appropriate for Simmons, who was 17 at the time, to pay the ultimate price.

While we think Simmons, and other minors who commit heinous acts, should be punished, we think it is wrong to kill young people -- even if they are young people who have killed.

If the high court agrees, it will be a landmark victory for child and human rights advocates, but it will also be a win for death penalty opponents, who view the possible ruling as one more way to curtail the law.

Vermont banned capital punishment in 1964. Like a handful of other states, officials here recognized the law as fallible, unfair, arbitrary and often racially discriminatory.

38 states still issue death sentences, however, and there are nearly 3,500 death row inmates across the country right now.

We hope that someday the high court will change that, too. For now, we're advocating for the 72 death row inmates who committed crimes when they were between the ages 15 and 17.

Those who support the death penalty for juveniles say 16- or 17-year-olds who kill are culpable, aware of their actions and should be tried as adults. Five states have taken this position in filings with the high court: Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah and, of course, Texas, which claims 13 of the country's 22 juvenile executions since 1974.

However, their protests seem like whispers next to those opposing executing minors: The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Children's Defense Fund, religious leaders, attorneys general from 8 states and 48 nations have weighed in with their own legal briefs.

They argue that law prohibits behavior for teens because they are not wise enough to understand the consequences of their actions and, similarly, the law should prohibit death sentences for people too young to fully realize what they do.

They point to psychological studies which offer evidence that teenagers cannot control impulses, are subject to peer pressure and that their brains are not mature.

And they note that the United States is one of only five countries that still issue death sentences to minors.

The others? China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan.
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The Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI)
October 5, 2004

Supreme Court opening?

In its term that began this week, the nation's top court gets chances to make America fairer by outlawing the death penalty for crimes committed by 16- and 17-year-olds, amending federal sentencing practices that yield overly long prison stays, and barring the inspection of stopped cars by drug-sniffing dogs without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, court watchers would not be surprised if this term made big news in another way: the retirement of a justice. The aging Supreme Court has not changed personnel in more than 10 years - the longest such spell since the 1820s. This anticipated development underscores the importance of the current race for the White House, whose outcome could determine the next appointee to the court.

Two years ago, the court at last barred the particularly barbaric practice of executing mentally retarded defendants. In doing so, the court reversed an earlier ruling with the explanation that what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," which the Constitution forbids, evolves. National and world standards had changed to the point where the execution of adults with the minds of children was now considered cruel and unusual, the court reasoned.

That same logic should apply for actual children. In 1988 the court barred the execution of people who were 15 at the time of their crimes, but the following year permitted the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds - a practice now at odds with world and even national standards. Most states, as well as the federal government, bar executions either altogether or just of minors. The court should align itself with those standards.

The justices have already heard arguments in the court's most urgent case. In a case from Washington state last year, the court narrowly - and wisely - ruled that the right to a trial by jury means that juries, not judges, must find facts that increase penalties beyond the maximum. That ruling threw federal sentencing guidelines into disarray. Lower courts disagree as to whether the Washington ruling is relevant. The high court will clarify the situation -- we hope in a way that will mollify what judges and lawyers alike have characterized as the excessive harshness of those guidelines.

The drug-sniffing case involves an Illinois traffic stop, in which the defendant explicitly declined to consent to a search. The court must protect individual liberty and not permit this example of a warrantless search.

The court will deal with federalism, civil rights, property rights and a host of other issues this term - in a manner that advances fairness and justice, we hope.

The lack of turnover means an aging court. At 56, Clarence Thomas is the court's youngster. The other justices are at least 65, with John Paul Stevens leading the way at 84. Behind him are Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, and Sandra Day O'Connor, 74.

So there's a good chance that filling a Supreme Court vacancy will fall in 2005 to the winner of the current race for the White House - a factor voters must weigh this November.
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American Medical News
September 27, 2004

Death penalty for minors: Cruel and unusual

As the Supreme Court hears arguments on using the death penalty against minors, the AMA joins the voices of science and international leaders against it.

No one seriously questions the rules that prevent a 16- or 17-year-old from buying alcohol or tobacco. Similar strictures prevent these young people from volunteering for active duty in the armed forces or even voting.

The reason for these limits is clear. It's a recognition that adolescents, even older adolescents, do not possess a level of maturity and understanding of consequences that come with adulthood.

That's why it is startling that, in certain states, these same young people still can be punished with death if convicted of a capital crime.

In October's Supreme Court term, justices will consider this issue. In Roper v. Simmons, the court has the opportunity to uphold the Missouri Supreme Court's decision overturning Christopher Simmons' death sentence for a murder he committed 10 years ago when he was 17. Thus, the court will have another chance to outlaw a practice considered a human rights breach by most of the industrial world.

The bright light of science backs up this position, offering evidence that the adolescent brain is not wired like that of an adult. The AMA, along with a number of medical societies, has rightly filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to uphold the Missouri decision.

For starters, the House of Medicine argues that no data exist to support the assertion that the death penalty has any deterrent value for this age group.

The U.S. Supreme Court "has held that executing a mentally retarded offender is unlikely to 'affect the cold calculus that precedes the decision of other potential murders,' " reads the brief. "The same is true of older 'adolescents' whose calculus weighs inputs -- particularly, future consequences -- differently from adults, and far differently from the cold-blooded murderer for whom the death penalty is reserved."

Overall, according to the AMA, adolescents, even at the age of 16 or 17, underestimate risks, overvalue short-term benefits, and are more emotionally volatile, more impulsive and less capable of controlling their emotions than adults. "In short, the average adolescent cannot be expected to act with the same control or foresight as a mature adult."

Cutting-edge brain research and imaging offer support for this position. Regions of the adolescent brain associated with impulse control, regulation of emotions, risk assessment and moral reasoning do not reach a mature state until after age 18. Teens are simply not as equipped as adults to engage in moral reasoning and adjust their behavior accordingly.

When the Missouri high court considered Roper v. Simmons, it concluded that the punishment is now used so rarely -- juveniles currently constitute less than 2% of those who face the death penalty, and 28 states no longer allow its use against juveniles -- that it qualified as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The Missouri court's decision tracks with prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The U.S. Supreme Court "has held that adolescents who commit capital crimes before the age of 16 and offenders who are mentally retarded are categorically exempt from the death penalty because they exhibit 'disabilities in areas of reasoning judgment and control of their impulses,' " notes the AMA's brief.

Therefore, the next step -- that of ending the practice regarding all juveniles -- logically follows.

The AMA, along with the American Psychological Assn. and the American Society of Adolescent Psychiatry, just to name a few, are joined by other voices in calling for such action. Though the American Bar Assn. does not have a policy regarding the death penalty in general, the organization opposes its use for juvenile offenders or for people who are mentally retarded. And friend-of-the-court filings were offered by other nations and many world leaders decrying the practice's inhumane nature.

Our country's continued nod to executing teenagers places us in the company of nations known for their civil rights abuses. That's company we, as Americans, don't want to keep.

Unlike adolescents, the adults engaged in this argument have the powers of foresight and an ability to grasp the consequences of their actions. Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court should do the right thing: Support the lower court's judgment that the death penalty and juveniles constitute a cruel and unusual combination.

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The Pantagraph (IL)
August 9, 2004

Eliminate death penalty for murderers under 18

Changing U.S. attitudes toward the death penalty are reflected in a case under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices have the opportunity to decide whether it is unconstitutional to execute people who were under age 18 when they committed their crimes.

Actually, the court ruled on that issue 15 years ago in Sanford v. Kentucky, when it allowed the practice for 16- and 17-year-olds. A year earlier, it had ruled against execution of those who were under 16 when they committed their crimes.

But in determining what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the court has the authority to look at current attitudes in society rather than be ruled by the Founding Fathers' intent more than 2 centuries ago.

And societal attitudes are changing.

The Supreme Court should outlaw execution of murderers who were under 18 when they committed the crime.

Illinois already requires that a person be at least 18 at the time of the crime to be eligible for the death penalty, as do 18 other states and the federal government. 12 states have no death penalty.

However, 14 states set the age at 16 and 5 allow executions for crimes committed when a person was 17.

Even though 19 states allow the death penalty for crimes committed as minors, only seven states have carried out such executions since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

In the past four years, only four countries other than the United States have executed people for committing crimes as juveniles: China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan. Those nations are hardly role models for human rights.

Although one might argue there is little difference between a person who commits a heinous murder a few days before his 18th birthday and one who does so a few days after that birthday, there needs to be an arbitrary cutoff somewhere.

The Supreme Court put that cutoff at age 16 in 1988. But medical professionals, who are among those arguing for a change in U.S. practices, say it should be higher.

Organizations such as the American Medical Association argue that adolescents do not have sufficient emotional maturity and reasoning abilities to subject them to the death penalty. They are better qualified than judges or other politicians to make such distinctions.

The Supreme Court should take this opportunity to ban execution of juvenile offenders as cruel and unusual punishment.
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The Tennessean
August 2, 2004

Should nation allow executions for crimes committed as juveniles?

Executing teenagers is just as wrong as executing the mentally challenged.

Dozens of foreign countries, a former president of the United States and a former president of the Soviet Union along with the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association all have said so. Now, it's time for the U.S. Supreme Court to agree.

The court will decide this fall whether to uphold a Missouri Supreme Court decision that set aside the execution of a 27-year-old man sentenced when he was 17 for the brutal murder of a Missouri woman.

Christopher Simmons was convicted of murder in 1993. He and an accomplice burglarized the home of Shirley Crook whom Simmons bound and gagged before driving around in a minivan. He then pushed her off a railroad trestle to drown in the river. Prosecutors argued that Simmons acted deliberately, planning the crime and bragging about it aloud, rather than acting on impulse as his defenders contended.

But the state Supreme Court justices cited the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the mentally retarded in 2002 which banned executions because "national consensus" had determined the policy was wrong.

Simmons' crime was heinous, but he was also 17 years old. There's plenty of evidence that 17-year-olds aren't fully developed and thus incapable of making good decisions. A group of some 30 religious organizations have cited that evidence in their briefs to the court.

They aren't alone with both the ABA and the AMA on their side and former President Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev among others. Other countries, including Canada and Mexico, have expressed their outrage.

The rest of the world can't understand the U.S. position. We remain the only country that officially permits the execution of juveniles. And the United States does so unevenly at best. Of the 37 states that sentence with capital punishment, only 19 allow juveniles to be executed. Texas accounts for half of all juvenile executions.

The majority of states frown upon the practice. So does the world. That's not just a consensus; it's a mandate to end the outrage.
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The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
July 31, 2004

OTHER VOICES: It Hurts U.S. to Execute Minors

Executing people for crimes they committed as 16- and 17-year-olds violates widely accepted human rights norms.

The Supreme Court has the chance this fall to step in to affirm that teenage criminals ought not be sentenced to death because they are not old enough to be fully responsible for their judgment and their actions.

The juvenile death penalty, in place in 19 states and actively used in seven, qualifies as "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, according to a Missouri appellate court ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court will review next session. And it doesn't deter crime or reflect the American ideal of treating children differently from adults.

With this case, the court could put a stop to the practice, and it should. Executing people for crimes they committed as 16- and 17-year-olds violates widely accepted human rights norms, as the 25-nation European Union and 23 other nations put it in a brief filed in support of the Missouri case the court will consider next session. Such policies isolate the United States from its allies and diminish the power of its diplomats to speak out convincingly on the array of human rights issues.

Child executions violate "minimum standards of decency now adopted by nearly every other nation in the world, including even autocratic regimes with poor human rights records," reads a brief signed by retired U.S. diplomats, including former Ambassadors Stuart Eizenstat, Thomas Pickering and Felix Rohatyn.

The only other countries that killed convicts of mortal crimes committed in their youth in the past four years were China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan, the diplomats say - not America's usual crowd.

In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for offenders younger than 16, but the next year upheld it for those 16 and older, reflecting the fears that a generation of "superpredators" was coming. It never did. And in 2002, the court banned executing mentally retarded convicts, saying a "national consensus" considered such executions wrong.

Research continues to confirm that the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control and moral reasoning do not mature fully until age 18 (and sometimes into the mid-20s), the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and hundreds of other medical groups and individuals repeated in a letter in support of abolition.

That matches the common wisdom hard-earned by parents, teachers and others in day-to-day contact with teenagers.

In a nation where 16- and 17-year-olds aren't considered legally mature enough to vote or buy beer, it strains credulity to argue that they should have complete control over themselves in just this one, most extreme, part of the law.

Compassion, coupled with scientific fact, argues for life.
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Philadelphia Inquirer
July 30, 2004

Executing Violent Teens

Stop the slow march to death row

This nation shields 16-year-olds from the sex, violence and profanity of R-rated movies. Yet it executes murderers of the same age - as though they were mature enough to answer fully for their crimes.

Society says these teens cannot handle movie mayhem - nor drink, vote, or sign legal contracts - but that they're as culpable as adults for serious criminal acts.

Who thinks that's a crazy proposition? Quite a few folks. Among them: Official representatives from countries in Europe, from Canada and Mexico, and many other nations. There's also former President Jimmy Carter, the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association and religious groups.

In legal briefs filed recently, a coalition of citizens, groups and nations asked the U.S. Supreme Court to end the execution of juveniles as barbaric.

The court must do exactly that. It already has banned the execution of mentally retarded defendants on grounds that a "national consensus" views such executions as wrong. There's a loud chorus and compelling scientific evidence in favor of ending executions of adolescents.

Of three-dozen states with capital punishment, nearly half allow the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds. New Jersey bans under-18 executions, but Pennsylvania and Delaware are bound only by an earlier Supreme Court ban on the penalty for anyone under 16.

Time was, this nation was a global pacesetter in reforms dealing with troubled youth. Many Americans grasped that teens differ from adults, in that their minds haven't finished developing, and that they might yet be rescued from a life of crime.

In the last two decades, with the spike in youth crime, the coining of the term "superpredator" for youthful offenders, and a get-tough, three-strikes mentality, that understanding waned.

Nearly 80 juvenile offenders inhabit the nation's death rows, including three in Pennsylvania. Across the board, their crimes were bone-chilling. They deserve to be imprisoned for their deeds. But they do not deserve to die.

There are good reasons why only a handful of nations send offenders ages 16 and 17 to death row.

Scientific evidence - developed, in part, by University of Pennsylvania professor Ruben Gur at his Brain Behavior Laboratory - documents that teens' still-developing brains can be ill-equipped to grasp the consequences of actions, to think ahead, or control impulses.

This is not about letting violent teens run wild. It is about understanding some criminals' youth precludes sending them to death row.
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The Virginian-Pilot
October 7, 2004

Malvo case exposes state's death-penalty split

True to Virginia's roots, the state political establishment will cast its lot with the executioners when the U. S. Supreme Court takes up the juvenile death penalty on Oct. 13.

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore has joined his counterparts in Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah in signing a legal brief supporting retention of the ultimate penalty for youths whose crimes were committed at ages 16 or 17.

Unfortunately, that's par for the course from the state that carried out the first execution in the New World and that is second only to Texas in executions since death-penalty statutes were revised in the 1970s.

This time, however, the hang-'em-high crowd won't be the only ones representing Virginia at a Supreme Court death penalty hearing.

Also speaking loud and clear by their actions will be the Chesapeake jury that gave Lee Boyd Malvo life in prison, rather than death, for his role in the I-95 sniper killings two years ago.

That decision in one of the most notorious crime sprees in American history is powerful testament to evolving community standards on the execution of juveniles. Despite gruesome testimony about Malvo's role in the cold-blooded, random killings, jurors appeared persuaded that his susceptibility to adult influence mitigated against death.

That, in fact, is the choice of most of the civilized world. When it comes to judging those whose crimes were committed before they turned 18, it is increasingly the choice of Americans as well.

An ABC News poll released in December 2003 showed seven out of 10 Americans oppose the execution of juvenile offenders. Thirty-one states now ban the practice. The two most recent additions, South Dakota and Wyoming, joined the list this spring.

Virginia is one of just six states that have carried out executions of individuals who were younger than 18 at the time of their offense.

Shamefully, three such deaths puts Virginia second only to Texas in the category.

Virginia politicians appear not to have heard, or at least heeded, the evolving science about adolescent brains. Increasingly sophisticated research affirms what many parents have long suspected: that full brain development does not occur until the late teens or 20s. Young males often display an impetuousness and lack of control that is eclipsed by age.

Since 1994, death sentences for juvenile offenders have dropped nationally. An intensive, soon-to-be-published Columbia University study credits evolving attitudes, rather than factors such as a decreased juvenile homicide arrest rate.

Regrettably, many leading Virginia politicians retain their knee-jerk embrace of capital punishment in broad form. When the Supreme Court struck down the penalty for individuals with mental retardation two years ago, state policy-makers cleaved to the losing side.

This time, however, their voices may be drowned out by the action of a conservative, tough-on-crime community that came face-to-face with the reality of juvenile crime and drew a life-and-death distinction.
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July 27, 2004

A rising chorus against juvenile executions

A broad swath of humanitarian, religious, medical, legal and governmental groups recently urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the death penalty for individuals whose crimes occurred before they turned 18.

The five Supreme Court justices who disagreed in 2002, when the high court last weighed the matter, should consider carefully the evidence that standards of decency have evolved.

No one disputes that Christopher Simmons, a Missouri inmate whose appeal will be heard this fall, acted cruelly in 1993 when he pushed Shirley Crook off a railroad transom to her death. Simmons was 17 at the time.

But there is mounting belief, partially based on medical evidence, that youths do not qualify for society's harshest punishment. That sentence should be reserved for individuals whose brains have fully developed.

Simmons' death penalty was imposed under a 1989 Supreme Court decision allowing the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds. Last August, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned that sentence, arguing that it violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The state of Missouri appealed and legal officials in several states, including Virginia, joined the appeal to preserve their authority to put juveniles to death.

As the numerous opposing briefs attest, the Missouri and Virginia view is increasingly isolated from national and international sentiment. Among the filers are 17 Nobel Peace prize winners, four dozen nations, 28 U.S. religious groups, nine former diplomats and a host of professional organizations.

The worldwide community has long rejected juvenile executions. According to the briefs, only five countries - China, Iran, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States executed juvenile offenders in the past four years.

Among seven states that have carried out such executions, Texas leads with 13; Virginia is second with three. In contrast, the U.S. military, the federal government and 31 states bar the practice.

What has long been a moral and legal issue has become a medical one, as well.

Scientists once considered brains fully developed by age 12 or so. Complex imaging studies, conducted recently at major medical facilities, prove otherwise.

Intense brain changes extend into late adolescence and even beyond. Areas involving impulse control, aggression and decision-making are among those in flux.

As they did in ruling against execution of the mentally retarded two years ago, the justices will gauge the Simmons case in light of community standards. A Chesapeake jury last year offered substantial evidence of change in awarding a life sentence, not death, to convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo.

The time has come for the nation as a whole to join a humane chorus of opposition to the execution of juvenile killers.
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Birmingham (AL) News
July 26, 2004

Executing juveniles

Alabama AG shouldn't defend shameful practice

In a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama Attorney General Troy King wrote there's "little room for doubt that at least some adolescent killers most assuredly have the mental and emotional wherewithal to plot, kill and cover up in cold blood. They should not evade full responsibility for their actions by the serendipity of chronological age."

Of course, society treats age as more than a matter of chance, or "serendipity," as King calls it. A 16- or 17-year-old is a child, not an adult. And we correctly put restrictions on what children can do, as well as stipulations on how our legal system must treat them.

Certainly, those restrictions should apply to the execution of juveniles. It's wrong. Society's ultimate punishment should be reserved for adults.

King believes he's doing his job as the state's top law official in writing a friend-of-the-court brief in a Missouri case urging the high court not to ban the execution of juveniles. Such a ban would apply to Alabama law as well.

But the Alabama law King is trying to protect is abhorrent. Alabama is one of 19 states that condemn to death those who committed their crime before reaching adulthood. Even fewer states sentence to die those as young as 16, as Alabama does.

Per capita, Alabama leads the nation in the number of juvenile offenders on Death Row. Only Texas, with a much larger population, has more condemned juveniles than Alabama's 14.

That is shameful. And puzzling.

Consider that we don't allow juveniles to vote, serve on juries, join the Army, buy cigarettes or alcohol, play the lottery, marry without their parents' permission or even consent to medical procedures - because we deem them too young and too lacking in maturity and responsibility. Yet, the law considers them old enough to be put to death?

We, as a nation, also should consider the company we keep. The United States is one of only three countries that execute juveniles. Do we really want to be on a short list with Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Between 1990 and 2003, the United States executed more people for their juvenile crimes than the rest of the world combined. There are 73 juvenile offenders on Death Row today across the country.

The Missouri case offers an opportunity for the Supreme Court to right a wrong this fall when it considers the constitutionality of juvenile execution.

An impressive list of groups and people has asked the court to end the execution of juveniles. They include Nobel Peace Prize winners, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Child Welfare League of American, the American Bar Association, dozens of religious organizations and 48 nations of the world, including our closest allies.

It would be regrettable if the high court, with the world watching, upheld juvenile execution.

Alabamians, rather than sitting back and watching their attorney general lobby for the continuation of an unjust practice, should ask their lawmakers to raise the minimum age for the death penalty from 16 to 18.
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Daytona Beach News-Journal
July 26, 2004

Shameful superlative

U.S. leads world in execution of young offenders

A first kiss, a first time behind the wheel, a first college-entrance exam -- these are the experiences of teen-hood. Death row shouldn't be one of them.

The United States is one of just five countries that still executes offenders who committed murder when they were younger than 18. In this, it joins an infamous group of nations including Iran, the Sudan and China, reviled the world over for abusing their citizens. Even among so abhorrent a crowd, America stands out. It put to death more offenders who committed crimes as young teenagers in the past 13 years than the rest of the world combined.

It did so even as medical science revealed that adolescents' brains are markedly different from adults'. The part of the brain that controls reason is still developing in the teen years. Emotion and instinct may have more sway over human reaction in teenagers and young adults.

In other considerations, the state recognizes that children are not the same as adults. That's why they are prohibited from offering their lives in military service or performing the civic duty of voting until they're 18. They're banned from drinking until they're 21. But the country persists in treating children as adults, ascribing them with all the reason and intellect of a mature person when meting out the final judgment, the penalty of death.

The United States deserves the scorn of its peers for continuing so barbaric a practice. It received it in spades last week. Forty-eight nations, 14 Nobel Peace Prize winners and dozens of medical, international and religious groups filed legal briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to halt executions of death row inmates who committed murder before they turned 18.

International embarrassment, however, won't win the day come October when the high court takes up the Missouri case, Roper v. Simmons. In 1993, Christopher Simmons broke into Shirley Crook's home, bound and gagged her and drove to a bridge, where he shoved her to her death. He was 17. A jury found Simmons guilty, and he was sentenced to die. But the Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, overturned the sentence.

Four justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are on record opposing the death penalty for young murderers, citing the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But, so far, a fifth justice has been unwilling to overturn the court's 1989 decision permitting states to execute offenders who committed their crimes at 16 or 17.

Of the 37 states that execute convicted murderers, 19 allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be put to death. Shamefully, Florida is one of them. Florida Sen.Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican and an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty, has tried for five years to persuade lawmakers to raise the age to 18. Each year it fails in the heat of House members' extremist rhetoric.

We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize that the death penalty does little but promote vengeance and justify a killer's own logic -- it's acceptable to take a life. In a righteous nation, the state-sanctioned killing of children -- even those who have killed another -- cannot be tolerated.
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April 29, 2004

Juvenile Executions - At least raise Florida's minimum age to 18

Florida doesn't execute children anymore. It hasn't in 50 years, but nothing in the law says it can't. Currently the law allows Florida juries to sentence 16-year-olds to death. Three inmates currently on Florida's death row were 17 when the murders were committed for which they're condemned. On Tuesday, the state Senate decided it can no longer countenance the statute's duplicity, reasoning that other Florida laws recognize people under age 18 as children. Victor Crist, the Tampa Republican who sponsored SB 224, is generally a hard-liner for the death penalty. But he said the state judges children unfairly when it assumes only in criminal cases that they have an adult's maturity to discern right from wrong. The bill would set the minimum age for execution at 18, removing Florida from the barbarous ranks of 20 states that sanction the death penalty for juveniles. Florida would be the third state in two years to do so.

Doubtless Crist and other right-wing legislators supporting the bill are also motivated by another less altruistic concern. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon review a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that executing youths offends the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Because the high court ended the execution of mentally retarded inmates in a decision two years ago, observers think the court will be similarly inclined to uphold the Missouri opinion. Florida legislators are obviously attempting to pre-empt an attack on this state's death penalty law by removing the potentially objectionable provision for juvenile execution.

But the question remaining this week is whether House Speaker Johnnie Byrd will allow a vote on the measure in the lower chamber. Legislation to the same effect was introduced in each of the past five years but got no traction in the more conservative House. Byrd remains strongly opposed. However, the companion bill to SB 224 recently received a unanimous favorable vote in the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. Byrd said early this week he may let members "vote their conscience" on it. That he should do, and with priority, regardless of the underlying motivations of death penalty advocates.

Of the 20 states that allow the execution of people who committed capital crimes when they were under 18, seven have carried out juvenile executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Of the nearly two dozen executions, half were in Texas. Seventy-three juveniles remain on the nation's death rows. In the 1980s, the high court itself abolished the death penalty for anyone 15 or younger.

Most industrialized nations have abolished the death penalty altogether, and that leaves the United States in miserable company. But this nation stands alone in the world in its continued sanction of juvenile execution.

Florida at least could join the ranks of the civilized world by abolishing the death penalty for offenders under 18. Byrd should call the vote on HB 63.
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Pensacola (FL) News Journal
July 26, 2004

Court should keep children off death row

The impulse to kill is as old as the first organized societies. Examples of executions sanctioned by ancient communities can be found in Scriptures and oral traditions from every corner of the globe.

An equally long-standing tradition, stretching from the beginning of civilization to our own day, is the recognition of the moral differences and expectations of juveniles and adults. If it were not for the erosion in our understanding of these time-honored differences, it would hardly be worth mentioning.

Unfortunately, the lines between "juvenile" and "adult" have become blurred, especially in the realm of capital punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court was right to stop capital punishment for mentally retarded offenders but wrong to shy away from the next logical step: keeping kids off death row. The execution of offenders who were minors at the time of their crime heightens the barbarity of the American death penalty.

As a civilized society, the United States should abolish the death penalty for offenders who committed their crimes as juveniles.

That's what opponents of capital punishment for juveniles, including the American Bar Association, a list of Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. diplomats and 48 countries, told the U.S. Supreme Court last week in court briefs.

Ordinarily, decisions on the death penalty should be left to the states. But executing people for crimes committed while they are adolescents should fit the Constitution's definition of "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Many Americans will be shocked to know that Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and the United States are the only nations in the world that permit the execution of juveniles. This isn't the kind of company a democratic society should desire to be included in.

So far, the Supreme Court has adopted that view only for children who are 15 years old and younger. It should protect all minors from capital punishment. After all, science has confirmed what parents have long known: The brains of 16- and 17-year-olds are still not fully formed -- an immaturity that hampers decision-making.

Two years ago, the nation's highest court barred states from executing adults with the minds of children on the ground that doing so was cruel and unusual punishment. But so far the court has declined to stop states from executing actual children.

We urge the Supreme Court to get behind the movement to put a halt to the execution of juveniles. Anything less is cruel and unusual punishment.
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The Honolulu Advertiser
October 18, 2004

Juvenile death penalty makes no sense at all

During the presidential debates, President Bush suggested his ideal of a Supreme Court justice would be one who does not legislate but simply interprets the Constitution according to how it was written.

The full flower of this thinking is the judge who is a "strict constructionist," taking the Constitution at its word.

Yet even the most conservative judge is affected by, and takes into account, the changing political, social and scientific world in which he or she lives.

That point is dramatized by a case soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. It involves the execution of juveniles.

The case before the Supreme Court today deals with a heinous crime involving a Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he tied up, gagged and threw into the river an elderly woman he and a companion had just robbed.

But the issue before the court is not whether Simmons, now in his late 20s, should be punished for the crime. The question is whether that 17-year-old who committed the crime should be put to death.

Our hope is that the Supreme Court will conclude, rightly, that he should not. The court has already found that executing the mentally incompetent amounts to "cruel and unusual" punishment prohibited by our Constitution.

Unusual certainly fits the bill here, too. Already, 28 states forbid the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds. Internationally, only a handful of nations such as Congo, China, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, allow the execution of juveniles.

Further, scientific evidence is increasingly clear that young people clinically lack the judgment and mental maturity to make rational decisions. Our law already recognizes that. It does not allow, for instance, those younger than 18 to drink, serve as combatants in the military or vote.

Yet we think they are mature enough to be put to death for their actions? It makes no sense.

There are more than 72 juveniles (or, mostly former juveniles) on death row today. With all respect to their victims, the lives of these people should be spared.
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July 25, 2004

Youth executions are clearly wrong

Now, here's a question:

What do the nations of China, Congo, Iran, Pakistan and the United States have in common?

The answer is these are the only four known counties in the world that allow the execution of juveniles for capital crimes.

The human rights records of China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan are well known. Why is it that the United States would wish to join this list?

The truth is that for the most part the United States has separated itself from the handful of nations that execute the young for capital crimes.

The federal government and 31 states have abolished the youth death penalty .

But under our system of government, those remaining states that choose to execute youthful offenders are free to do so, unless the penalty is found unconstitutional.

Which is precisely what is before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case arising out of a Missouri incident in which a 17-year-old was convicted of deliberately drowning a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that execution of mentally retarded individuals is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.

The same should apply to the execution of youthful individuals who commit crimes, however heinous.
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Roanoke Times & World News
July 23, 2004

SPARE THE DEATH PENALTY FOR JUVENILE CRIMES

Lawyers representing Virginia are among those arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that states know better whether killers who committed crimes as juveniles deserve the death penalty.

The justices should dismiss the errant position staked out by Virginia and a few other states and heed the call of an impressive group, including Nobel laureates, that has asked the court to end the execution of killers who committed crimes as teens.

Certainly, young people should be held accountable for heinous acts of violence. But a truly just and humane society should recognize youth as a mitigating factor for sparing its young from the most severe form of criminal punishment.

As previously noted on this page, both science and experience illustrate that young people often lack the maturity, moral gauge, judgment and ability to control their impulses.

When the court considers the case this fall, it also should weigh other factors that undercut the argument favoring executions in general, including racial disparity and the quality of legal representation for the poor.

Just as the Supreme Court previously banned executions for children under 16 and for the retarded, it should summon such sensible judgment and ban the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The United States is one of only a few nations that allow the death penalty for crimes committed before 18.

The Nobel laureates - including Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev - filed a brief this week urging the court to end the practice, correctly saying it makes the United States look hypocritical on human rights.

But lawyers for Virginia, Delaware, Alabama, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas said the decision of who is executed belongs to states:

"[Our] experience strongly indicates that a bright-line rule categorically exempting 16- and 17-year-olds from the death penalty . . . would be arbitrary at best and downright perverse at worst."

No, what's perverse is a nation willing to send its young to the death chamber. The court should so rule.
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Miami Herald
July 21, 2004

A merciful consensus in a moral society

OUR OPINION: ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS

The United States should follow the majority in this country and the rest of the world and abolish the death penalty for offenders who committed their crimes as juveniles. That's what a chorus of advocates -- among them the American Bar Association, Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. diplomats and 48 countries -- told the U.S. Supreme Court this week in friend of the court briefs. Executing juvenile offenders violates widely accepted human-rights standards. The United States should discontinue this practice.

The court will be hearing a case from Missouri on this issue this fall. The case involves Christopher Simmons, who at 17 broke into Shirley Crook's home, bound and dumped her into a river to drown. Simmons and other juveniles who commit heinous crimes merit harsh punishment, including life in prison -- but not the death sentence.

Teens on Death Row

In fact, Missouri's Supreme Court overturned Simmons' death penalty. It did so relying on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the execution of mentally retarded offenders based on a ''national consensus'' that such punishment was cruel and unusual. The state of Missouri, however, appealed the Simmons decision, arguing that there is no such American consensus for juvenile offenders. The Supreme Court's 1989 ruling that upholds the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-old offenders could be affected by this case. Also at stake are Florida's death-penalty standard, which allows 17-year-old offenders to be executed, and the fate of four such convicts currently on Florida's Death Row.

The friend-of-the-court briefs filed this week with the Supreme Court suggest how much attitudes have evolved. The federal government, 31 states and the U.S. military have banned execution of juvenile offenders, and only seven states have executed such offenders in 30 years. So it's not a common practice.

Unable to reason

Stuart E. Eizenstat, Thomas R. Pickering and other retired diplomats noted that only four countries other than the United States have executed juvenile offenders in the last four years: China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan -- all countries with questionable human-rights records. The U.S. practice has isolated us diplomatically and has been condemned by the international community -- so says the brief by 48 countries including the European Union, Canada and Mexico. A slew of medical and psychiatric groups presents scientific evidence that 17-year-olds are, as the court found with mentally retarded individuals, ''less culpable'' because of their inability to reason and control their conduct.

A moral society should dispense justice laced with mercy. We hope that the Supreme Court finds executing juvenile offenders no longer acceptable.
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The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)
July 21, 2004

KILLING TEENS: U.S. NEEDS TO DRAW THE LINE ON EXECUTIONS AT AGE 18

Fact: The United States is just one of five countries in the world that allows the execution of juveniles. Opinion: This nation has many reasons to be proud. But this is not one of them.

Solution: Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court invoked the concept of "evolving standards of decency" and used that to abolish capital punishment for mentally retarded criminals. That same standard should be expanded to include the execution of people for crimes they committed before they turned 18.

This fall, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to make such a ruling when it hears the case of Christopher Simmons who was sentenced to die for murdering a Missouri woman when he was 17.

The high court has already ruled that the execution of those 15 and younger is unconstitutional. But the court needs a higher standard.

Conclusion: The killing of children is too important a judgment to be left to the discretion of judges and juries on a case-by-case basis. The nation needs to draw a line on how far it is willing to go with capital punishment. That line should be drawn at 18.
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The Republican (Springfield, MA)
October 11, 2004

Death penalty in U.S. no longer child's play

One day, we hope, the United States Supreme Court will rule that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

In the meantime, the nation's highest court can take a step toward that end by ruling it unconstitutional to execute a juvenile.

On Oct. 13, the court will hear arguments in Roper vs. Simmons, a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty for persons who committed crimes when they were 16 or 17 years old.

The United States is one of only a handful of nations where such executions are still possible.

In 1988, the court prohibited the execution of those whose crimes were committed at 15 or younger, but it ruled the next year that capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-old defendants does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

While there have been few executions for juvenile crimes in recent years, the United States has executed more juvenile offenders than the rest of the world combined since 1990. It is a shameful record.

The United States does not allow a 16-year-old to buy cigarettes, buy a six-pack of beer, sit on a jury or vote on Election Day because we don't trust his capacity to make the right decision. That is an old argument, but it is sound. By any measure or definition, a 16-year-old is still a child.

In July, 48 nations formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to end the execution of juveniles. Briefs were also filed by 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners, 28 U.S. religious organizations, the American Bar Association and the nation's largest doctors' organization urging the nation's highest court to declare it unconstitutional. Few cases before the court have generated such a loud and uniform response.

In 2002, the court decided by a 6-3 margin that the execution of the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment, and thus unconstitutional. We hope that the justices would use the same logic on Oct. 13.

4 justices - John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - issued an unusual statement last year calling the death penalty for juveniles "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society."

One more makes a majority.

Can 4 Supreme Court justices and 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners be wrong?
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July 21, 2004

Executions of teens a stain on America

Most of the world agrees on this much: A civilized nation does not execute its young.

Virtually every nation in the world shares this fundamental standard of decency, even some nations with histories of human rights violations.

In this spirit, 48 nations asked the Supreme Court this week to end the execution of people in the United States for crimes they committed before they turned 18.

Briefs were also filed by 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners, 28 U.S. religious organizations, nine former American diplomats, the American Bar Association and the nation's largest doctors' group urging the nation's highest court to declare it as unconstitutional.

Since capital punishment was reintroduced in the United States in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes they committed as minors. It is a record that stains America's reputation throughout the world, leads to charges of hypocrisy and damages the nation's credibility as a world leader.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded people could not be executed, reasoning correctly that the punishment violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

If the justices apply the same reasoning when they hear this case in the fall, they will block the executions of people who are guilty of being juveniles at the time of their crimes.

Last year, the high court's four most liberal justices - John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - issued a statement calling the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-old killers "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society."

If one of the other justices will join them this fall, this punishment will finally be declared unconstitutional.

A teen-age killer does not instantly become an adult when he pulls the trigger or slashes a knife at his victim. He is still an adolescent, an impulsive juvenile who does not possess the level of moral culpability to justify imposing the death penalty. Do what must be done, but don't kill him.

The United States has executed more juvenile offenders than the rest of the world combined since 1990.

Judging from the briefs filed with the Supreme Court this week, it seems the world has been watching.
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Decatur Daily
April 23, 2004

Executing youthful offenders not a worthy battle for King

Fledgling Attorney General Troy King has picked an interesting first major stance since being appointed to office by Gov. Bob Riley.

It's a safe one.

He's going to fight bills that would put a moratorium on the death penalty. Politically, standing up against those who oppose the death penalty is a popular fight in Alabama, where even losing the fight could be a winning situation.

Mr. King already knows he has legislative support to fight these bills that would impose a 3-year moratorium as well as prohibit the death penalty for anyone younger than 18.

What would test his mettle would be jumping into the fray opposing the death penalty and opposing the execution of anyone under 18. But that's not going to happen because that's not good for a political career in Alabama.

Both of these bills, introduced by state Sen. Hank Sanders, a Selma Democrat, and approved by the State Judiciary Committee, deserve more than a cursory glance.

It's doubtful much can be done about Alabama's death penalty. But something could and should be done about executing those under 18. Most states don't allow this and almost all countries have stopped executions of youthful offenders.

If Mr. King wants to be remembered as a great attorney general, he should study these bills and determine, politics aside, what is best for Alabama.

Especially the bill that supports dropping the death penalty for those under 18.
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Concorde (NH) Monitor
April 22, 2004

Executing kids - Death sentence for children says they're beyond redemption

A civilized society does not kill children, not even children who've killed.

According to Amnesty International, the United States has executed more juveniles over the past decade than all other nations combined. Of the 22 American children executed for their crimes since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 13 were put to death in Texas. Virginia (three), Oklahoma (two) and Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri (one each) accounted for the rest.

New Hampshire, to its credit, is not on that list. Today, by passing Senate Bill 513, the House will have the opportunity to affirm that it won't be. It should do so.

Although it may legally impose the death penalty for several serious crimes, New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939. But the state is one of only 19 that allow anyone over 17 to be charged with a capital crime and put to death.

A bill passed by a 12-11 vote of the Senate earlier this year would raise the age of culpability for a capital crime to 18. The change would not mean that young murderers must be tried in juvenile court. The law allows offenders as young as 13 to be certified as adults. But it does mean that the harshest penalty a juvenile could face would be a sentence of life in prison with no hope of parole. That's the same penalty that now applies in first-degree murder cases.

The bill also clears up an ambiguity in existing law by adding the words "at the time the offense was committed." The change eliminates the possibility that an adult could be executed for a crime committed while a child but not prosecuted until years later.

Whatever one's views on the death penalty - we oppose it in all cases -there are sound reasons for forbidding the execution of juveniles. A large body of law exists to protect people under 18 on grounds that juveniles lack the emotional or mental maturity to make many crucial decisions. Youth would, of course, disagree, and the exceptions to that general rule are many. Yet society does not grant those under 18:

  • The right to vote or to serve on a jury.
  • The right to purchase tobacco or alcohol or for that matter, a Playboy magazine.
  • The ability to work a hazardous job, fight in combat or enter a binding contract.
  • The ability to marry without parental consent (except in Mississippi, where the age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls).

That vast body of law recognizes that juveniles are, by rights, held to a lower standard of responsibility than adults. Yet the rule is breached when children are forced to face the ultimate sanction for their actions.

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled - wrongly - that states do have the authority to execute 16 and 17-year-old offenders. Fortunately, society continues to evolve. Contemporary community standards - the mirror in which society sees both itself and what it seeks to become - have changed. There are, as the Eighth Amendment recognizes, "evolving standards of decency," and the public, by more than a two-thirds margin, now strongly opposes the execution of children no matter how heinous their crimes.

Part of that change in attitude has come with a better understanding of the link between adolescent brain development and maturity. No matter how bright they might be, the brains of young people, and their ability to reason and control impulses, are not fully formed.

Society recognizes that by holding juveniles up to different standards in most aspects of life. It should do the same when it comes to capital punishment.
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Lakeland Ledger
April 22, 2004

Set Minimum Execution Age

The Florida Legislature has always been strong on capital punishment and has recoiled against any limitations imposed by the courts. At the same time, it has failed to clarify a key question relating to the death penalty:

How young is too young when sentencing a killer to death?

Oddly, the Legislature has avoided that question. The result has been that the courts have been forced to step in. As it stands now, a person cannot be sentenced to death if he/she was younger than 17 when the crime was committed. It's possible that further litigation may set the age higher.

Finally, the Legislature seems ready to make that decision as a matter of law rather than judicial interpretation. A bill is making its way through both the House and Senate to set the minimum age at 18. It passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee by an 8-0 vote last week and the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee by a 17-1 margin.

18 makes more sense than anything else. It's the age of adulthood. An 18-year-old has the right to do anything any other adult can do other than buy or consume an alcoholic beverage. It's also the traditional age when a person finishes public schooling, and gets a job or enrolls in higher education.

Juries have been reluctant to sentence younger defendants to death, but it has happened infrequently. Even in the most aggravated cases -- the Washington sniper case comes to mind -juries tend to show some mercy to defendants who were younger than 18 when their crimes were committed.

The bill probably will pass before the session ends next week, assuming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, allows it to come to the floor. Byrd is running for the U.S. Senate as a hard-line conservative, and he might be reluctant to let the bill pass for fear of appearing to be soft on crime. Plenty of other law-and-order conservatives support the bill, though, so Byrd needn't fear any repercussions if he joins them.
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Palm Beach Post
April 21, 2004

Ban under-18 executions

A small shaft of enlightenment has cut into the dark thinking in Florida about capital punishment.

2 committees in Tallahassee have approved legislation that would ban the death penalty for people who are under 18 years of age when they commit a capital crime. Last week, the proposal cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-0 and the House Public Safety Committee 17-1.

As with almost all other matters that relate to the death penalty, Florida is behind the national curve. Thirty-one states either prohibit execution of those who were minors at the time of their crime -- South Dakota and Wyoming are the most recent additions -- or ban capital punishment. The Supreme Court has made it unconstitutional to execute those who were 16, and this fall, the justices will hear arguments in a case from Missouri that could lead to the court expanding the ban to include all minors.

One reason for changing attitudes in Florida is the record of killing by very young children. Even the ardently pro-death penalty political leadership in Tallahassee didn't want the bad publicity that might attend a jury's recommendation of death for someone who was too young to drive. Cover for the Legislature comes from Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Director Guy Tunnell, who support the death penalty but also support the legislation, which would allow a sentence of life without parole.

A sign of national sentiment came when a jury refused to hand down a death sentence for Lee Malvo, the younger member of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper pair. He killed an FBI agent in Virginia, where most people favor capital punishment. That's why Attorney General John Ashcroft wanted the first sniper trial held there.

Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, seems supportive. The problem seems to be House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, who doesn't want to seem soft on crime in his campaign for the U.S. Senate. There's soft, though, and then there's barbaric.
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Tampa Tribune
April 15, 2004

No Death Penalty For Juveniles

A bill moving through the state Senate would outlaw the execution of killers who are younger than 18 when they commit murder.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, says he sponsored the bill because it will preserve Florida's capital punishment law if the U.S. Supreme Court decides the death penalty can be imposed only on adults.

Florida law today allows the death penalty for 17-year-old killers, but the nation's high court will soon decide whether executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's bar against cruel and unusual punishment.

Two years ago the justices banned the death penalty for mentally retarded killers, but they still allow states to execute murderers who kill at age 16.

We are not opposed to state lawmakers making a determination about the age for executions. The elected Legislature is the proper body to decide whether to restrict or abolish the death penalty.

Just because a state reserves the right to execute a murderer who kills as a juvenile is no guarantee that child will ever enter the death chamber. Take Lee Boyd Malvo, the teenage half of the Washington-area sniper team that left 10 people dead two years ago. Malvo faced the death penalty during his first trial, but the jury recommended a life sentence.

There are people supporting Crist's bill because they understand that raising the age for executions is another step toward rejecting capital punishment altogether.

Those sentiments shouldn't cloud the issue. Crist has a strong record of being tough on crime. No juvenile has been executed in Florida since 1948, so a ban's impact would be minimal.

Meanwhile, Florida's right to impose the death penalty for the most heinous crimes would remain intact.
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Portsmouth (NH) Herald
April 14, 2004

The execution of juveniles has no place in a civilized world

"In no event shall any person under the age of 18 years at the time the offense was committed be culpable of a capital murder."

This is the entire text of Senate Bill 513.

It is the simplest of statements, but if passed by the New Hampshire House it will have the most profound of effects.

This state remains one of only 19 that permits the execution of juveniles. While no juvenile has ever been put to death in this state - and, in fact, there hasn't been a state-ordered execution since 1939 - it is chilling to think that a youngster could be convicted of a capital crime in New Hampshire, or anywhere else in the country, for that matter, and sentenced to death.

A legislative attempt to abolish the death penalty for both adults and children passed the House and Senate in 2000, but was subsequently vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Another attempt in 2001 failed passage in the House by just eight votes after Shaheen again threatened a veto.

There are widely varying positions on the death penalty, based on moral, religious and empirical factors. Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming abhorrence worldwide of putting young people to death.

An ABC poll conducted in the wake of the trial of 17-year-old spree killer Lee Boyd Malvo in Virginia showed that 62 percent of Americans preferred life imprisonment for even the most notorious juvenile killers, while only 21 percent favored putting them to death. A Gallup poll released in May 2002 reflected similar sentiments. Only 26 percent of those surveyed favored the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

Virtually every international organization - from the European Union to the United Nations - denounces the execution of juveniles.

It is critical that New Hampshire join the 31 other states and the many foreign countries that have changed their statutes to outlaw the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles, not only to protect its own children, but to serve as a model for the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that it looks at trends in state legislation as evidence of contemporary values and evolving standards of decency. The passage of Senate Bill 513 will send another much-needed message that Americans oppose the death penalty for juveniles.
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Shreveport (LA) Times
April 13, 2004

Ban executions for juveniles: Louisiana should join the rest of the country and stop executing young offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court in October will take up the issue of capital punishment for those who committed crimes while juveniles. But the Louisiana Legislature need not wait on the justices to ban such executions.

Louisiana is in the minority when it comes to the death penalty for those under the age of 18, and the numbers are shrinking. Thirty-two states already ban the death penalty for juveniles; 43 have never used it for young offenders, regardless of what state law says.

Several states are considering legislation similar to that now being deliberated in Baton Rouge. House Bill 783 by Rep. Cheryl A. Gray, D-New
Orleans, and Senate Bill 221 by Sen. Don Cravins, D-Lafayette, would bar the death penalty for capital crimes committed by offenders younger than 18. Five people now sit on Louisiana's death row for crimes committed as juveniles. The last such execution was 14 years ago.

The case that may lay the issue to rest for good is Roper v. Simmons, a Missouri case involving the killing of a woman by a 17-year-old. When the Court last considered the juvenile death penalty in 2002, dissenting
Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer wrote, "The practice of executing [juvenile] offenders is a relic of the past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society. We should put an end to this shameful practice."

Public opinion is similarly inclined. An ABC News Poll at the end of 2003 showed that just one-fifth of Americans support executing youth who commit capital crimes. But the grounds for altering Louisiana's law are based on more than changing public opinion.

In testimony before the Nevada State Assembly last year voted to eliminate the juvenile death penalty, Dr. David Fassler of the Vermont Psychiatric Association testified to the physiological reasons adolescents are "much more likely to act on impulse, without considering the consequences of their actions, and [why] they are generally more receptive and responsive to intervention and rehabilitation."

In a letter to a Florida newspaper, former first lady Rosalynn Carter wrote
"Acknowledging the lesser culpability of juvenile offenders does not minimize the suffering and impact upon their victims' families. Tragically, there are juveniles who commit terrible crimes. But punishment is to be imposed according to the culpability of the offender." And science increasingly calls the culpability of juveniles into question.
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Orlando Sentinel
April 12, 2004

GOING TOO FAR; OUR POSITION: THE DEATH PENALTY SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR ADULT CRIMINALS, NOT KIDS.

We support the death penalty -- for adults. But it's wrong for Florida to consider executing people for crimes they committed before age 18.

Yet a measure in the Florida Legislature intended to reserve capital punishment for convicts older than 18 has been twisted by a House subcommittee. It allows the execution of people who committed crimes when they were 17. It's incumbent that reasonable lawmakers set the age limit at 18.

Reserving the death penalty for adults doesn't impugn capital punishment. Indeed, the proposal to set the age limit at 18 was made by state Sen. Victor Crist, one of the most passionate supporters of Florida's capital-punishment laws.

Mr. Crist said he did a lot of soul searching before reaching the conclusion that executing people for crimes committed as juveniles was wrong because teenagers and adults are not the same. The reasoning that led him to that conclusion is supported by scientific evidence. High-technology imaging exams show that the brain's frontal lobe, which helps anticipate consequences and controls impulses, is not fully developed in teens. That explains why some juveniles may make poor decisions that could result in horrific crimes. It's also noteworthy that existing laws recognize that teens lack maturity. That's why juveniles aren't allowed to vote or drink alcohol.

Despite these issues, juveniles who commit vicious deadly crimes cannot be allowed to walk free. Life in prison without the possibility of parole is the best way to punish them. That should last a long, long time.
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Globe and Mail (Canada)
April 5, 2004

Youths on death row

An astonishing 75 juveniles are on death row in the United States, the only country apart from Iran that formally executes youths 17 and under. In the past dozen years, the remaining holdouts have banned the practice -- Yemen and Zimbabwe in 1994, China in 1997 and Pakistan in 2000 -- while the Democratic Republic of Congo has placed a moratorium on it. This is not, by and large, an axis of good, yet even it has managed to do the right thing.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to reconsider its 1989 decision permitting capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-olds. This is an opportunity to continue dismantling the archaic structure of the death penalty. In 1988, the court abolished the penalty for 15-year-olds. Two years ago, it banned the practice of executing mentally retarded people, and thus allowed the United States to part company with Kyrgyzstan.

Since the first U.S. execution of a juvenile criminal in 1642 (50 years before the Salem witch trials), 336 youths have been put to death out of 20,000 total executions. Much has changed in law, science and the family since then, but the country still clings to the notion that putting killers to death will make it a safer place to live.

Yet even by the country's own legal standards for imposing the death penalty, a strong argument can be made that it is time to abolish the penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds.

When the court threw out the death penalty for mentally retarded prisoners, it said the public consensus no longer supported it. The 6-3 majority cited the fact that in 1989 only two death-penalty states did not allow it, while in 2002 18 did not.

By the same token, five death-penalty states have barred executions of juveniles since 1989, and juries seem increasingly reluctant to impose the ultimate punishment on teens. Last year, just two juveniles received death sentences; 10 years ago, 17 did. A jury in the case of 17-year-old Washington-area sniper Lee Malvo refused last December to sentence him to death for a cold-blooded killing.

Retribution and deterrence are the two stated reasons for the U.S. death penalty, as set out by the Supreme Court. Something shocks the conscience in demanding death as retribution from teenagers, who are deemed so immature that they cannot marry without parental consent until the age of 18. (In Missouri, where the state Supreme Court recently struck down capital punishment for juveniles, youths cannot serve on juries until they are 21.) As for deterrence, it is mere speculation that the prospect of a death sentence works on the impulsive teenage mind in a way that a long prison term does not.

Since four of the Supreme Court's nine judges have already called juvenile executions a "shameful practice," just one more vote is needed to overturn the practice. It would be most likely to come from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or Justice Anthony Kennedy; both voted two years ago to end executions of the mentally retarded.

If the juvenile death penalty falls, some observers say, the next fights could involve the death penalty for those 18 to 20 and for those who are borderline mentally retarded. Executing juveniles is a stain on the United States. The country may not give up quickly on the illusion that state-sanctioned killing is a just and effective answer to violence in the community. Piece by piece, however, it may be starting to let go.
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St. Petersburg Times
April 28, 2004

Draw the line - The Florida Senate voted Tuesday to end the death penalty for juveniles. The House should now do the same.

Florida once executed a 17-year-old boy only three weeks after his one-day trial for rape before a jury that had taken only two hours to select. At least seven other prisoners, the last in 1954, went to the electric chair at Raiford before they had reached their 18th birthdays. All were black. But for the racism that permeated this state, it is unlikely that any of them would have been on death row. Of the 19 states that still provide for juveniles to be sentenced to death, all but four practiced racial segregation.

Segregation has been outlawed. So has the death penalty for rape. No one dies now without benefit of appeal. The mentally retarded have been spared. But that one glaring anachronism, the juvenile death penalty, persists. Under Florida law, defendants as young as 16 could still be condemned.

The Florida Senate, to its immense credit, voted Tuesday to put an end to that. The vote was 26 to 12 in favor of SB 224, by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who is a prominent advocate of the death penalty in other respects. "We have to draw the line somewhere," he argued, pointing out that every other Florida law says that people under 18 are children; in every other respect, Florida acknowledges that a child's sense of judgment is immature. Crist had important support from Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, who as a former state attorney is the only member of the Senate who ever had to decide whether to ask juries and judges for death sentences. "The question is," said Smith, "are we a state that executes children?"

The answer to that question, which should be no, now rests with the House, where the last committee to hear it voted 17-0 in favor of the companion bill, HB 63, by Rep. Philip Brutus, D-North Miami. Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who does not favor it, said Monday he is leaning toward letting members "vote their conscience" on it. That was tantamount to a promise, which he needs to keep. The world is watching.

There are three people on Florida's death row for murders they committed when they were 17. Crist's bill was amended to leave their fates to the courts. Let them be the last.
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April 25, 2004

Keep your promise - It's time for the Florida Legislature to pass the bill that exempts juveniles from the death penalty.

When the Florida Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment to protect the death penalty, the measure had the incidental effect of allowing people to be executed for crimes they committed at the age of 16. Sponsors said they didn't want to do that and promised corrective legislation. That was three years ago. Voters ratified the constitutional amendment a year later. The bill that was promised has yet to pass.

Missouri's attorney general, meanwhile, has cited Florida's retrograde action in a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a Missouri law that similarly allows the execution of 16- and 17-year olds.

Missouri's own Supreme Court threw out that law on the premise that a national consensus has evolved against the execution of juveniles. Half the death penalty states as well as the federal government exempt juveniles. (The New Hampshire Legislature has voted to make that the 20th state to do that, but the governor has said he will veto the bill.) Since 1976, only 7 states have actually executed prisoners who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.

But Missouri's attorney general says what Florida voters did in 2002 helps prove that the Missouri court misread the national mood.

That is the wrong interpretation of what Florida did. The Legislature all but ignored the age question in its hysterical haste to do something - anything - to stop the Florida Supreme Court from barring the use of the electric chair or even shutting down the death penalty altogether. The Legislature itself retired the electric chair. Now, it needs to keep the promise that was made.

The Florida Senate appears willing to pass SB 224, by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, and others, which sets 18 as the minimum age, though it has been approved by only 1 of the 2 committees to which it was referred. In the House, 2 committees approved a companion bill, HB 63, after it was amended to set the minimum age at 17, but there is still another committee to go and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd is not thought to be fond of the bill. Time is running out.

But if Byrd were to think more deeply about it, he might see the underlying principle of that bill in the same light as his insistence that a minor's parents should be notified before she has an abortion. The comparison is not an original thought with us; it's the view of James A. Smith Jr., editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, in Thursday's edition.

"In both matters," he wrote, "the principle is the same. The law should recognize that minors must be treated differently (as it does in other laws related to minors). In the case of minors seeking abortions, at the very least, parents must be informed about such an important and life-changing medical procedure - no matter how politically correct abortion is. In the case of capital punishment, the law should recognize the difference of minors' moral culpability - no matter how politically incorrect it may be to shield minors from the death penalty." Executing minors, Smith said, "cannot be considered just."
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March 30, 2004

Capitol offenses - Youth and justice

Shamefully, Florida is one of the few places in the entire world where people can be put to death for crimes they committed as juveniles. The Legislature, amid one of its spells of death-penalty hysteria four years ago, spawned a constitutional amendment that, among other things, lowered the minimum age from 17 to 16. At the time, leaders promised to offset that with a law raising the age to 18, which would correspond to the laws of 19 states and the federal government, but that promise remains to be kept.

With the current session almost half over, neither criminal justice committee has so much as scheduled a hearing on SB 224, by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, or on its companion, HB 63, of which Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, and Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, are co-sponsors. Crist says he's been promised a hearing next week. Floridians should hold Senate President Jim King and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd responsible if those bills fail to pass.
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The (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal
October 16, 2004

Executing juveniles

Soon, Americans over the age of 18 will go to the polls. No one under 18 may vote. They aren't considered mature enough.

In fact, juveniles aren't considered mature enough to drink or to smoke, to marry or to sign contracts. They're not allowed to sit on juries, to make medical decisions - or even go to movies with "mature" content.

But, in many states, including Kentucky, 16- and 17-year-olds are held as accountable as adults if they commit capital crimes. They may be sent to death row, and killed by a lethal injection or an electric jolt.

But opinions on the juvenile death penalty finally are changing. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether it should be banned.

A ban would affect only 19 states - a statistic now being used by lawyers advocating for a ban. They point out that standards of "decency" have evolved since the Court last considered the issue in 1989.

Today, 19 states that allow the death penalty, including Indiana, carve out an exception for anyone who committed the crime as an adolescent. Even states that do allow executions of juveniles rarely do it - only three have in the past decade.

But there's another reason for the Court to change its opinion on the juvenile death penalty: Recent studies of neurological development show that the frontal lobe, where reasoning occurs, is the last part of the brain to develop.

As neuropsychologist Ruben Gur of the Brain Behavior Lab at the University of Pennsylvania puts it, "The evidence now is strong that the brain does not cease to mature until the early 20s, in those relevant parts that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences and other characteristics that make people morally capable."

At the same time the brain is changing in juveniles, hormonal changes are occurring. Testosterone, which is closely associated with aggression, increases 10-fold in adolescent boys.

In other words, scientists now can document what every parent of a teenager has known for a long time: that 16- and 17-year-olds often are governed by emotions and impulse instead of reason.

That's why society restricts their privileges and limits their legal culpability. It's why so much money and effort are spent trying to protect them from the consequences of drugs and unprotected sex.

How odd it is that the big exception to society's handling of adolescents is in the way it deals with capital crimes.

Now the Supreme Court has a chance to right that wrong.
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March 9, 2004

The case against sentencing 16- and 17-year-olds to death is very strong, but Kentucky law still allows it. House Bill 475 would change that.

Just last week, South Dakota and Wyoming became the 30th and 31st states to abolish the juvenile death penalty. HB 475 would make Kentucky the 32nd.

The argument for executing someone like Kevin Stanford (who was 17 when he committed his especially grisly crime - the torture and murder of gas station attendant Baerbel Poore - is powerful. But Mark Wright, past head of the Kentucky Psychiatric Association, offers an even more compelling response, citing landmark research that shows juveniles are "far less developed than we ever knew."

Research reported at Harvard Medical School shows that brain development doesn't end at puberty. "Executive" areas of the brain (where emotions are calmed, impulses controlled, decisions made, abstract ideas processed and multiple tasks handled) may not mature until the early-to-mid 20s. Many laws already recognize that, as Dr. Wright put it, "kids are different."

Of course, Kevin Stanford was no "kid" when he committed his awful crime, but, at age 17, society didn't consider him responsible enough to vote, serve in military combat or on juries, make medical decisions, sign contracts, get married, leave home, buy cigarettes or drink liquor. And the public still takes a custodial view of 16- and 17-year-olds. Only 26 percent of Americans support the death penalty for juveniles. Polls say Kentuckians want to eliminate it, by a margin of two to one.

The alliance against the juvenile death penalty includes a wide range of opponents, from children's and civil rights organizations to legal, medical, religious and right-to-life groups. The United States leads the world in executing juvenile offenders, because nobody else does it. And Kentucky shouldn't. Pass HB475.

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Oregonian
FEBRUARY 28, 2004 

 

"No Juveniles for the Chair - The Supreme Court Should Rule That Lengthy Prison Sentences Are More Appropriate for Young Killers"

No juveniles for the chair -- The Supreme Court should rule that lengthy prison sentences are more appropriate for young killers

Oregon doesn't execute murderers younger than 18, nor does it casually hand out death sentences like they were parking tickets.

But some states do, earning the periodic scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court's decision this week to revisit the constitutionality of executing juveniles is yet another needed and welcome foray into this sticky moral issue.

The Supreme Court should rule that executing juveniles is unconstitutional, or at least outside the bounds of society's evolving standards of decency. A lengthy or lifelong prison sentence is a more appropriate punishment for juvenile killers on the cusp between childhood and adulthood.

The Missouri case heading to the Supreme Court involves a man who robbed and killed a woman when he was 17 years old. The high court expressly forbids executions of people who were 15 or younger at the time of the crime. Juveniles who kill at the age of 16 or 17, however, occupy a constitutional gray area.

The court ruled in 1989 there is no "national consensus" against executing killers who are 16 or 17. But the court's opinion may be changing with the times.

Only 3 states --Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia -- have executed juvenile offenders during the past decade. Twelve states outlaw capital punishment altogether, and another 17 states and the federal government forbid it for all juveniles. The number of death sentences handed to juvenile killers nationwide has dropped significantly, from 15 in 1999 to 4 in 2002.

What's more, recent publicity over wrongful convictions, shoddy legal defense and lack of evidence in capital cases has made the nation more aware that society can make mistakes in the pursuit of justice.

States and the federal government should reserve the right to execute society's most vicious and calculating killers. That power should be used sparingly, however, saved for the murderers who most egregiously violate the social contract.

In other words, states should follow the example of Oregon, which has executed 2 people in the past 2 decades, not of Texas, which will execute 4 people this month.

Deciding when and how to apply the death penalty will remain subjective, since every murder is reprehensible and every murderer cannot be executed. Making distinctions based on age may feel as arbitrary as the legal distinctions based on IQ and mental illness.

But all of these distinctions, ideally, should be guided by the same principle: whether the accused killer has the capacity to understand consequences and culpability. People who are insane or profoundly retarded don't. Neither do many teenagers.

Society should err on the side of caution and reserve death sentences for the worst criminals who know what they've done -- and for those who, if wrongly accused, have more than a snowball's chance of mounting a defense.

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Casper (WY) Star Tribune
FEBRUARY 19, 2004 

"Executing Juveniles is Wrong"

Wyoming's House of Representative is now considering House Bill 5, which prohibits the execution of juveniles.

This measure deserves support, for a number of reasons.

The death penalty should be meted out only to the worst of the worst members of society, if it's meted out at all. And juveniles who are convicted of murders committed prior to their 18th birthdays rarely could be classified as such. For those rare juveniles who fit into that classification, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an option.

Currently, Wyoming is one of only 17 states that allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be executed.

 

Iran is the only other country that specifically allows executions of juveniles, and it hasn't executed any juveniles since 2001, according to Amnesty International. The most recent juvenile execution in the United States was Scott Allen Hain, executed in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003, for a crime he committed when he was 17.

There were 78 juvenile offenders on death row in the U.S. as of April 2003.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults oppose the death penalty for juveniles, according to a 2002 Gallup poll, and the Supreme Court has ruled that executing persons who committed their crimes while under age 16 is unconstitutional.

Child murderers may not have the capacity or opportunity to learn and understand fully the consequences of their crime. Consider this from an American Bar Association fact sheet: "Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis of New York University led comprehensive diagnostic evaluations of 14 juveniles on death row in four states. She found that nine had major neuropsychological disorders and seven had psychotic disorders since early childhood. ...

"Other common characteristics included suffering trauma to the head and IQ scores under 90 (only two did better). Only three had average reading abilities, and another three had learned to read on death row."

Twelve of the 14 reported they had been abused physically and/or sexually. In several of the cases studied, the accused withheld evidence of their history and other problems fearing embarrassment or because of poor counsel by their attorneys.

Wyoming has no juvenile offenders on death row, and has not in modern times executed anyone who committed their crimes before they turned 18.Banning the practice won't change anything in the short term. In the long term, it affirms our own humanity.

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Washington Post
FEBRUARY 18, 2004 

"Playing by Texas Rules"

THE SUPREME COURT has announced that it will review the constitutionality of the death penalty for people who were children when they committed their crimes. But don't expect Texas to stop executing juvenile offenders while the court does so. The Lone Star State has scheduled, through the end of June, the executions of four convicts for crimes committed while they were still underage. Unless the courts step in and stop these executions, Texas could end up killing people only to find out later that those executions violated the Constitution.

It should not take a court order to force the state to delay these executions until it knows whether they are legal. But Texas, in its unrivaled enthusiasm for capital punishment, sees few corners that it cannot cut to get convicts to the death chamber quickly. Texas has executed more than half the total number of juvenile offenders put to death in this country since capital punishment's reinstatement. And officials apparently see no reason to stop now that the high court may be having second thoughts about its decision years ago to uphold the practice. As Harris County District Attorney Charles A. "Chuck" Rosenthal Jr. put it to the Houston Chronicle, the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case "doesn't change anything." He added, "Until a court tells me differently, the executions are still on." It's time for the courts to tell Texas differently.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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February 3, 2004

"Still Cruel and Unusual"

AT FIRST GLANCE, the Supreme Court's decision to reconsider whether the juvenile death penalty violates the Constitution may seem to be good news for opponents of capital punishment. In 1989 the high court, in the case of Stanford v. Kentucky, upheld the practice of executing people for crimes they committed when they were 16 or 17. Now the justices want another look, just as they recently took another look at -- and banned -- execution of the mentally retarded, which they had also upheld in 1989. Some state legislatures have moved to outlaw the juvenile death penalty since the court last considered the issue, arguably a sign of the same sort of consensus that led the justices to declare killing of the retarded to be "cruel and unusual punishment." Perhaps, some hope, the court is poised to take the next step: a clear statement that killing people for crimes they committed as juveniles is also off-limits.

Unfortunately, this may not be the court's intention. The justices have passed up the chance to consider the juvenile death penalty in recent years, over the objections of the four more liberal members of the court, and thereby let juvenile offenders go to their deaths. The court accepted the latest case only after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution forbids the juvenile death penalty, notwithstanding the high court's precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court, in other words, may have agreed to hear the case not because justices have changed their minds but to slap down a state court.

The Missouri court reasoned that the Supreme Court itself considers the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment not as a simple ban on particularly vile punitive practices but rather as a kind of sliding scale: Whatever society's "evolving standards of decency" come to abhor, the Eighth Amendment forbids. Times have changed since 1989, the state court reasoned, so it was free to determine that since Stanford, "a national consensus had developed against the execution of juvenile offenders." Given that lower courts are supposed to apply Supreme Court precedents faithfully, this approach is difficult to defend. It would not be surprising if the high court repudiated the Missouri court's action and, in so doing, reiterated its own prior position.

But it would a great shame, because if the Missouri court misunderstands its obligation to the federal Supreme Court, it is right on the merits of the matter. Indeed, the juvenile death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment in 1989, a barbaric mistreatment of children, and it is still cruel and unusual today. The court should not, in disciplining a lower court, compound its own prior error.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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Rapid City Journal
FEBRUARY 18, 2004 

 

"Pass Death Penalty Bill"

By The Journal Editorial Board
Advertisement [oas:rapidcityjournal.com/archives:Middle] Advertise Here Directory -->

Last week the state Senate rejected a bill that would have repealed South Dakota's death penalty law while passing a bill that removes capital punishment for individuals who committed their offense when they were less than 18 years old. The juvenile death penalty bill, SB182, passed the Senate, 23-11, and awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

Federal law and 29 other states have passed laws that prohibit capital punishment for juvenile offenders. Arguments against the juvenile death penalty include the acknowledgment that youth under the age of 18 are not as mature in their decision-making than adults. Youth 17 years of age and under are not allowed to vote, buy alcohol or cigarettes, make medical decisions, or enter into contracts, because they are considered immature. Why should they be executed for crimes committed before society considers them to be full adults?

 

It is sometimes the case that prosecutors seek to try juveniles as adults because of the seriousness of their crimes and/or past record. But punishment for juvenile defendants should not include the death penalty.

South Dakota should not allow capital punishment for juveniles. The Legislature should pass SB182 and set a minimum age for the death penalty at 18 years old.

 

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News & Observer
JULY 24, 2004

"A Higher Standard"

With its annual list of violator countries, the United States claims the title of defender of human rights, and given its heritage and standing in the world, the title is fitting. A chink in the claim, however, is that 19 states allow the execution of people who committed capital crimes at the ages of 16 or 17.

True, that age bracket is on the cusp of what is typically considered adulthood. But there is no getting around the fact that 16- or 17-year-olds, no matter how horrible a crime they may have committed, are not adults. Treating them in every respect as if they were holds people who may be immature or vulnerable to adult standards of accountability -- and paints the United States as a human rights hypocrite.

It also should be sufficient reason for the Supreme Court to heed petitions from several impressive groups to outlaw execution of people whose crimes were committed while they essentially were still children. The justices this fall will reconsider whether executing such juvenile killers constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Nineteen states allow execution of people who were 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes. In North Carolina, those who were 17 can be put to death.

Several former diplomats in one of the petitioning groups noted that in the past four years, only the United States, Congo, China, Iran and Pakistan have let such prisoners be executed. The United States should do all it can to drop out of that club. They also noted that in the United States, more such criminals were sent to their deaths from 1990 to 2003 than in the rest of the world combined. Diplomats know firsthand how badly those grim facts play in other capitals.

Also asking the high court to end the policy are a number of American allies, a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners, and this nation's largest doctors group, and for good reason. People in their middle teens can do dreadful and vicious things, but a humane society will err on the side of restraint in punishing them, to maintain the distinction our justice system properly draws between children and adults.

America's long history of allowing for execution under these circumstances doesn't make the policy right. On this issue, the nation, represented by the justices on the high court, would do well to practice the human rights that it preaches.

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FEBRUARY 12, 2004

"Youth and Cruelty"

Americans increasingly are uneasy over the frequency with which condemned inmates are found to be innocent or to have had trials that were tainted by prosecutorial or police overreaching. But for good reason, there's an added layer of unease about sending people to the death chamber whose crimes were committed when they were juveniles. While there's little sentiment for executing the rare child who goes so horribly astray as to commit murder, the issue is murkier for teenagers on the border of adulthood.

Still, modern science has determined that the parts of the brain that control reasoning abilities aren't as developed in 16- and 17-year-olds as they are in adults. And reliable scientific research should help mold public policy. To its credit, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Missouri case that could result in states being allowed to sternly punish teenagers who make such terrible decisions, but without the lethal severity reserved for those who had reached 18 when they committed their crime.

The justices will hear, probably this spring, an appeal by the State of Missouri of a ruling by its state supreme court that executing Christopher Simmons -- 17 when he killed a woman in 1993 -- would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. North Carolina law allows death sentences for those who were 17 or older when they killed someone.

In all, five men on this state's death row would be spared if the Supreme Court sides with the Missouri justices. The principle should be similar to the one that led the high court to bar execution of the mentally retarded as cruel and unusual.

There is a strong case for suspending the use of capital punishment entirely, given how capriciously it tends to be imposed. But certainly a civilized society, employing knowledge and compassion, would reject it as a punishment for those whose youth may have kept them from reasoning as an adult.

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Yankton Daily Press

 

FEBRUARY 10, 2004 

 

"S.D. Should Get Rid Of Death Penalty For Minors"

South Dakota lawmakers have an opportunity this session to send an important message about the state's system of criminal punishment and its notion of reform.

The question is, which message will they choose to send?

The answer can be found in SB182, a bill which would prohibit the execution of anyone under age 18 convicted in South Dakota of murder, aggravated kidnapping or terrorism. With the death penalty part of state law, it is possible that at some point in the future a minor may be convicted of a capital crime -- a very adult offense, to be sure -- and be sentenced to die. South Dakota is currently one of 16 states in the country that allows this practice.

The bill was approved by the Senate Monday and now heads to the House for consideration.

South Dakota should put this law on its books.

By so doing, the state would send a message of hope, for lack of a better term. It would leave open the possibility that there is a chance of rehabilitation for a youthful offender who has made a horrible mistake.

By rejecting this measure, lawmakers are, in effect, undercutting one of the purposes of our penal system. They would be proclaiming that a crime committed at such a young age forfeits any chance a convicted minor may have of righting himself or herself, or of using any wisdom that may come with maturity to find a better path in life.

Let's not be naive about this. A capital crime such as murder is an unconscionable act, no matter the age of the perpetrator. And of course, no amount of mercy or reform for the prisoner will ever bring back a victim from the dead. Murder is the ultimate transgression in our society, and currently the law in 38 states says it demands the ultimate price. (The merits of that law comprise another argument for another time.)

However, the state should also recognize that minors are at a confusing, impressionable, chaotic age of transition. Emotions can run rampant, priorities can be shortsighted, and judgment can sometimes produce mirages of logic and illogic. For any kid, this is an awkward time of maturity -- think back to your own teen years. A kid's violent, antisocial, self-destructive behavior may be a result of parents who did not understand the needs of the child and did not fully appreciate the awesome responsibility of molding a law-abiding citizen. It may simply be the result of bad, misguided judgment. In either case, it is a serious cry for help.

If a teen commits a murder, that youth should be given the opportunity to set his or her life straight. It may mean years in prison and the loss of precious freedom, but it would also mean that there is at least a chance for a young life to reform.

That's one of the things our prison system is supposed to represent: giving felons the chance to rehabilitate themselves while paying for their crimes. Certainly, some of these people will never change their ways -- but some actually do. Juveniles, who undeniably still have a lot of growing up to do, should be given that chance to change with the passage of time and to realize what the walls and bars around them truly mean.

This bill does not ask for forgiveness for juveniles convicted of a capital crime; instead, it asks for a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation. With the proper counseling and guidance, there is the chance that a young, still-forming life can be put on a better path. By executing teens, we are dismissing this possibility. We are dismissing any hope.

That is something this state should not do.
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Detroit Free Press
October 16, 2004

Teen Executions
Court should ban death penalty for minors

Even death penalty supporters ought to hope that the U.S. Supreme Court ends the barbaric practice of executing murderers who killed when they were 16 or 17.

The United States is virtually alone in permitting the execution of minors. Only six other nations have allowed it since 1990, and those countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, have practically abandoned using it.

Justices have already acknowledged that maturity and mental capacity help determine a legal level of responsibility. They have applied the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment when a killer lacks the ability to understand his or her actions. The high court outlawed executions for those 15 or under when they committed their crimes, and for the mentally retarded. Still, 19 states continue to allow the death penalty for older teenagers.

The arguments against the death penalty for adults are persuasive enough. Minorities and the poor make up most death row inmates. DNA technology has shown that a disquieting number of them are innocent. Moreover, because of legal challenges, the death penalty is costly, and no evidence shows that it deters.

The case against executing juveniles is even more compelling. Society doesn't extend adult rights to 16- and 17-year-olds because it believes they do not possess the same maturity and judgment. Nor should they, generally, suffer the same consequences. That doesn't mean minors should not be punished, but the most severe sanction possible for adults is not appropriate for juveniles.

The Supreme Court can bring the nation in line with its own Constitution -- and all standards of decency -- by outlawing the execution of children.
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JANUARY 30, 2004

"Court Would Be Correct to Ban Executions of Teens"

Even death penalty supporters should applaud the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider ending the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

The arguments against executing adults are compelling enough. They should be absolutely decisive against the execution of teens and children in any decent society.

The high court has already laid the legal and philosophic groundwork for ending this shameful practice. It has linked the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment to a killer's ability to understand his or her actions. Justices abolished executions for the mentally retarded in 2002.

In making that ruling, the Supreme Court said that executing the mentally retarded was inappropriate by evolving community standards. So, too, is executing teenagers. Seventeen states that allow the death penalty still ban it for those who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. So does the federal government for juveniles prosecuted in federal court. Only a handful of nations permit it.

There are many good reasons to oppose the death penalty for adults, especially since new DNA technology has shown that a disquieting number of death row inmates were actually innocent. Such inmates also reflect the nation's legal and social inequalities, as most of them are poor or minority.

But even those who believe death is reasonable retribution ought to acknowledge that the immaturity of children should exclude them from this most severe, and irrevocable, punishment.

The Supreme Court should have no trouble ruling that executing young citizens is, by today's standards, cruel, unusual and unconstitutional.

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Greensboro (NC) News and Record
JANUARY 30, 2004 

"High Court Weighs Juvenile Executions"

Five prisoners on North Carolina's death row are among the 73 inmates in America who will anxiously await a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The prisoners were under 18 years old when they committed murder.

This week the nation's highest court agreed to review whether the U.S. Constitution permits juveniles to be executed. The court will decide if those who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed murder can be given the death penalty. Of the 38 death-penalty states, 17 forbid executing those who killed when they were under 18. North Carolina permits executions if the crime occurred when the killer was 17 but not 16.

America is the only Western democracy that still legalizes executions. This page is an opponent of capital punishment because we believe it is arbitrarily and capriciously applied. We believe that life imprisonment without parole is the proper punishment.

The advent of DNA testing in the late 1980s has revealed the innocence of more than 100 people on death rows. In some cases prisoners have been within hours of execution. The uncertainty about the guilt of death-row inmates reconfirms our opposition to capital punishment. So do disclosures about inadequate legal counsel for those facing capital crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court has deliberated in the past about juvenile executions. In 1989, the court said it was unconstitutional to execute people when they were younger than 16 at the time of the crime because it violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment.'' The court's decision, it said, was influenced by the growing disuse of juvenile executions and by state laws and public attitudes (it weighed similar factors when it banned the execution of the mentally retarded).

Yet in 2002, the court refused to reconsider juvenile executions despite urging from four justices -- David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The justices said executing 16- and 17-year-olds was "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in civilized society.'' But they needed a fifth justice to create a majority.

The court will not hear arguments in the current case until next October, and the outcome is uncertain. The specific case involves a Missouri man who murdered a woman when he was 17. The killing was grisly. He robbed her, wrapped her head in duct tape and tossed her off a railroad bridge. He is now 27 (four of the North Carolina inmates are now in their 20s, another in his 30s).

In recent years the Supreme Court has chipped at the margins of the death penalty. It banned execution of the retarded and raised standards for legal counsels. It is time for the court to end juvenile executions, too.

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Arizona Daily Star

JANUARY 29, 2004 

"Executing Young Offenders"
Public sentiment and state practices are leading the way, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether criminals can be executed if they committed their crimes when they were 16 and 17 years old.

The court agreed to hear an appeal from the Missouri Supreme Court. That court ruled last year that executing Christopher Simmons, now 27, would amount to a violation of the Eighth Amendment's provision against "cruel and unusual punishment." Simmons was 17 when he committed a murder.

Deciding the constitutionality of executing teen offenders is a natural progression for the Supreme Court. In 2002, the court ruled that the mentally retarded could not be executed for their crimes.

That decision was based largely on public opinion that no longer accepted such executions. When the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the death penalty for Simmons, it cited the Supreme Court's ruling on the mentally retarded. The divided court in Missouri voted 4-3 and said that a "national consensus" had grown against the execution of teen offenders.

All evidence points to the truth of that statement. News stories note that the executions are becoming increasingly rare. A total of 38 states allow the death penalty, but only 22 of those allow teen offenders to be executed. The Washington Post reports that since executions were reinstated in 1976, 22 juvenile offenders have been executed. Teens whose crimes were committed when they were 15 and under cannot be sentenced to death.

Anti-capital punishment advocates are leading this push and their agenda is transparent - elimination of the death penalty. However, eliminating capital punishment for teens and the mentally retarded is a far cry from total elimination of the death penalty.

There is some indication that acceptance of this case was pushed by the more conservative justices on the court who favor the death penalty. If so, their votes would conserve the status quo.

They are not likely to be swayed, even by evidence that the brains of people in the 16- and 17-year old age group are still growing and changing. But if "evolving standards of decency in a civilized society" are to be used to end capital punishment for those who don't understand the nature of their crimes, then offenders aged 16 and 17 should be included.

However, the larger issue is that the time has come to start dismantling all capital punishment. As some members of this court have said before, the death penalty does not fit into any notion of a decent and civilized society.

The Supreme Court should strike down the practice of putting to death teen offenders. It is a necessary move toward the inevitable elimination of the death penalty.

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Kansas City Star
July 27, 2004

Court should end juvenile executions

Christopher Simmons was 17 and should have just graduated from high school at the time a Missouri jury sentenced him to death. A decade later, his sentence is the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case, scheduled for oral arguments in the fall.

Justices would erase an outrage by abolishing the death penalty for people who commit crimes as juveniles. Besides the United States, only China, Pakistan, Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo permit executions for offenses by 16- and 17-year-olds. In this country, 31 states, including Kansas, have laws exempting juveniles from capital punishment.

The Missouri Supreme Court tried to move the state in the right direction last year by ruling that the execution of juvenile offenders violated the state constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. That ruling relied on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed the execution of offenders who are mentally retarded. The state judges contended that the "national consensus" against executing people who are mentally retarded also applied to juveniles.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, never one to let the chance of an execution slip away without a fight, appealed the state Supreme Court decision. He said it was the legislature's job to decide legal ages for the death penalty.

A broad coalition of religious, medical and psychiatric groups have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court appealing for a ban on executions for crimes committed by juveniles. These groups presented compelling testimony that juveniles have less capacity than adults to reason and consider consequences.

The court also received briefs from the European Union and dozens of countries, including Canada and Mexico. They contended that the execution of juveniles isolated the United States from the international community.

If his death sentence were revoked, Simmons would still spend the rest of his life in prison for the heinous 1993 murder of Shirley Crook, 46. No court ruling can right that enormous wrong. But capital punishment for crimes committed by the young is another wrong -- one that Supreme Court justices can stop.
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JANUARY 29, 2004

"Supreme Court should end executions of juveniles"

After deciding to review a Missouri case, the U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to stop death penalty sentences on those who were minors when they committed crimes.

Since 1973, states have put to death more than 20 juveniles. Justice John Paul Stevens rightly labeled such executions "shameful" and Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer agreed. Experts believe a decision in this case will rest with Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, both of whom previously voted to ban capital punishment for people who are mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court took this case on appeal from Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon. He is challenging a 4-3 Missouri Supreme Court decision last year. That court overturned the death sentence imposed on Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he killed a woman in 1993. The court ordered Simmons to spend life in prison.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Missouri Supreme Court's ruling, it would reverse its own 1989 decision that allowed states to execute killers who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed capital crimes.

Missouri could have avoided the expense and energy required to litigate this appeal by joining many other states that have abolished the death penalty. At a minimum, lawmakers should adopt a bill (SB 726) that would create a commission to study the death penalty and impose a moratorium on executions. Kansas is considering a similar bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that people who are mentally retarded cannot be executed. Juvenile executions should be the next to end.

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Denver Post
JANUARY 28, 2004 

"No death penalty for minors"

We view with a glimmer of hope the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement that it will decide on the death penalty for minors on an appeal from Missouri.

That the United States was the only country that carried out any executions of juvenile offenders worldwide during 2002 is a shameful stain on the nation that weakens any claim to being civilized in the 21st century.

The case that the U.S. Supreme Court will review involves the appeal of a ruling last year by Missouri's Supreme Court, which held that executing convicted criminal Christopher Simmons would be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment because the killer was younger than 18 at the time of the crime.

The Missouri court said it was following the constitutional reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court in banning the execution of the mentally disabled in 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court held 6-3 that because numerous states had passed laws against executing mentally disabled offenders, this rendered it a cruel and unusual punishment and, therefore, unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

The nation's highest court last addressed the death penalty for juveniles in 1988 and 1989, ruling it out for offenders under 16 when their crimes were committed but allowing it for those 16 and 17. But there have been changes since then - of the 38 states that have a death penalty, 16 don't allow it for minors. That's five more than in 1989. Also, 12 states have no death penalty at all for either minors or adults, meaning that minors can't be put to death in 28 of the 50 states.

Thirty states had abolished the ultimate sanction for the mentally disabled when the court ruled it out in its 2002 decision.

As of last fall, there were 74 juvenile killers on death row in the U.S.

Opponents of executing killers under 18 say that like the mentally disabled, they might be responsible for their actions but haven't the emotional and intellectual maturity to be culpable enough to be put to death. They cite recent research that indicates brain development is still ongoing during thyears, The Washington Post reported.

It is no badge of honor that the United States is third among the nations of the world in executing criminals. Only China and Iran put more people to death, according to Amnesty International. In 2002, China had 1,060 executions; Iran, 133; and the U.S., 71. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, 22 of the 887 people executed were minors when they committed their offenses. Not surprisingly, Texas leads with 13 juvenile offenders executed.

The Post traditionally has opposed capital punishment, and it is our hope that the justices see the issue of executing teen offenders in a new light and abolish this odious practice.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Oct. 14, 2004

U.S. SUPREME COURT: Are we civilized?

The U.S. Supreme Court may be on the verge of joining the rest of the civilized world in banning the execution of juveniles.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made just one remark during Wednesday's hour-long argument over whether to execute Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he murdered Shirley Crook of Fenton, Mo. Justice O'Connor said there was "about the same consensus" against the juvenile death penalty today as there had been against executing mentally retarded murderers when the court outlawed those executions in 2002.

That comment could be especially significant. Justice O'Connor is the crucial 5th vote for ending the execution of 16- and 17-year-old murderers. And the key legal question is whether a consensus has emerged that juvenile executions are "cruel and unusual" punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

In 1993, Simmons and a 15-year-old accomplice broke into Ms. Crook's home, bound her with duct tape and threw her in the Meramec River, where she drowned. Simmons, who now is 28, was sentenced to death.

Last year, the Missouri Supreme Court took the unusual step of getting out ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling 4-3 that a consensus had emerged against executing 16- and 17-year-old murderers similar to the consensus against executing the mentally retarded. The number of states prohibiting the execution of the mentally retarded had risen to 30 by the time of the 2002 Supreme Court decision. The number of states prohibiting the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds has risen to 28. The Missouri Supreme Court also noted that only 3 states have executed a juvenile in the past decade, making such executions truly unusual.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon appealed the court's decision, arguing that legislatures, not courts, should decide whether juveniles can be executed.

A key question at Wednesday's argument was whether the court should consider world opinion and practice. According to Amnesty International, since 1990 only China, the Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States have executed children and adolescents - not exactly the kind of company we want to keep.

When Missouri State Solicitor James Layton said Wednesday that only the "mores of American society" mattered, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that Thomas Jefferson had referred in the Declaration of Independence to a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia shot back, "What did John Adams think of the French?"

In some ways, this is the legal parallel of the political argument playing out in the presidential campaign about how much the United States should heed world opinion. The answer is the same in both spheres: We should consider world opinion, but not allow it to dictate the result. In the case of juvenile executions, world opinion and American opinion are moving in the same direction. It is safe to say that there is an evolving consensus throughout the civilized world to end juvenile executions.

Scientific research also shows that juveniles' brains are less developed in areas that mediate impulse control and decision-making. Weighing public opinion and scientific evidence together tips the scales toward mercy. It is time for the law to follow and to spare the lives of 72 juveniles now on death rows across the United States.
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JANUARY 28, 2004

"Executing Juveniles"

Next fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the United States will join the rest of the civilized world in banning the execution
of juveniles.

The court announced this week that it will review last summer's Missouri Supreme Court ruling that the execution of 16- and 17-year old murderers conflicts with society's evolving standard of decency. The state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Christopher Simmons, who was 17 in 1993 when he murdered Shirley Crook of Fenton. Simmons and a juvenile accomplice broke into Ms. Crook's home, bound her with duct tape and threw her into the Meramec River, where she drowned. Simmons now faces life in prison.

The Supreme Court is closely divided on the issue. Four justices - John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - believe that juvenile executions violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. Three justices - Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist - believe the penalty is constitutional.

The deciding votes will be those of Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, who in 2002 joined Justices Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter to strike down the death penalty for the mentally retarded; since then, however, Justices O'Connor and Kennedy have refused to extend that view to the execution of juveniles.

The Missouri Supreme Court's 4-3 decision both reflects and reinforces an evolving consensus against executing juveniles, similar to the consensus barring execution of the mentally retarded. Just as the number of states prohibiting the execution of the mentally retarded had risen to 30 by the time of the 2002 Supreme Court decision, the number of states prohibiting the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds has risen to 28. Only three states have executed a juvenile in the past decade, making such executions truly unusual, the court said.

But there is another, less favorable way to look at the numbers. The consensus against executing mentally retarded murderers evolved far more rapidly than the one against juvenile executions. Between 1989 and 2002, 16 states decided to stop executing the mentally retarded, while five stopped executing juveniles.

The Missouri Supreme Court looked to a broader societal consensus. It noted that leading religious, legal, psychiatric and foreign political leaders oppose the execution of juveniles. In addition, the court correctly reasoned, juveniles are less accountable for their actions than adults.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, says the state Supreme Court should have been bound by the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court precedent upholding the juvenile death penalty. But the Eighth Amendment is different from other parts of the Constitution; its meaning evolves with society's view of decency. Viewed from that perspective, it was appropriate for the state court to base its decision on society's current standard of decency.

Justices Kennedy and O'Connor have been willing to consider the views of other nations; elsewhere in the world, the verdict is overwhelmingly against executing juveniles. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also condemns juvenile executions as inhumane. Surely, it's time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

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Baltimore Sun
July 27, 2004
International shame

THE SUPREME COURT has the chance this fall to step in and affirm that teenage criminals ought not be sentenced to death, because they are not old enough to be fully responsible for their judgment and their actions.

The juvenile death penalty, in place in 19 states and actively used in seven, qualifies as "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, according to a Missouri appellate court ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court will review next session. And it doesn't deter crime or reflect the American ideal of treating children differently from adults.

With this case, the court could put a stop to the practice, and it should. Executing people for crimes they committed as 16- and 17-year-olds violates widely accepted human rights norms, as the 25-nation European Union and 23 other nations put it in a brief filed in support of the Missouri case the court will consider next session. Such policies isolate the United States from its allies and diminish the power of its diplomats to speak out convincingly on the whole array of human rights issues.

Child executions violate "minimum standards of decency now adopted by nearly every other nation in the world, including even autocratic regimes with poor human rights records," reads a brief signed by retired U.S. diplomats, including former Ambassadors Stuart E. Eizenstat, Thomas R. Pickering and Felix G. Rohatyn. The only other countries that killed convicts of mortal crimes committed in their youth in the past four years were China, Congo, Iran and Pakistan, the diplomats say – not America's usual crowd. Maryland does not allow such executions; Virginia does.

In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for offenders younger than 16, but the next year upheld it for those 16 and older, reflecting the fears that a generation of "superpredators" was coming. It never did. And in 2002, the court banned executing mentally retarded convicts, saying a "national consensus" considered such executions wrong.

Research continues to confirm that the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control and moral reasoning do not mature fully until age 18 (and sometimes into the mid-20s), the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and hundreds of other medical groups and individuals repeated in a letter in support of abolition.

That matches the common wisdom hard-earned by parents, teachers and others in day-to-day contact with teenagers.

In a nation where 16- and 17-year-olds aren't considered legally mature enough to vote or buy beer, it strains credulity to argue that they should have complete control over themselves in just this one, most extreme, part of the law.

Compassion, coupled with scientific fact, argues for life.

 

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JANUARY 28, 2004

 

"A Penalty Too Harsh"

In America, youngsters under the age of 18 can't buy cigarettes. They can't be served a cocktail in a bar or pick up a six-pack of beer. They can't vote. They can't own property outright. And yet, executing someone who committed a heinous crime at age 16 or 17 is permissible in this society. Condoned in 22 states. Practiced vigorously in at least one, Texas. Only in America.

The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to put a stop to that barbarous practice, and should.

America's interest in executing its most vulnerable has waned considerably since the court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. A 2002 Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of adults in the United States oppose capital punishment for juveniles. Of the 22 states that permit the death penalty for juveniles, 15 have not carried out an execution in the past 28 years. Last year marked the fewest juvenile executions in 15 years - only two.

The court's decision Monday to review the constitutionality of the death penalty for juveniles comes in a Missouri case in which the state's Supreme Court found the punishment to be so little used now that it qualified as "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The Missouri court spared the life of Christopher Simmons, a convicted murderer who hardly qualifies as a poster boy for outlawing the death penalty. Prosecutors say Mr. Simmons, now 27, boasted that he could beat the case because he was a teen-ager.

But teens don't possess the maturity or intellectual capacity to comprehend the consequences of their actions. Scientific studies show that to be the case: Areas of the brain that control impulse, reasoning and judgment don't fully mature until our 20s.

If a measure of a society is how it chooses to punish its most incorrigible and for whom it reserves its most horrifying punishment, then this country has failed.

The Supreme Court will be looking at whether a consensus exists in the country now to narrow use of the death penalty once again. Since 1989, when the court found no such consensus on executing offenders who committed their crimes as juveniles, five states have joined the 12 that set a minimum age of 18 for execution. A Virginia jury's decision to spare teen-age murderer Lee Boyd Malvo the death penalty also suggests an attitude shift. Federal prosecutors wanted Mr. Malvo tried there first because of Virginia's uncompromising use of the death penalty.

When the Supreme Court takes up the Missouri case in the fall, it will do so with at least four justices already on record opposing the death penalty for juveniles. Fifteen years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that "the day may come" when the prevailing view is against executing offenders who committed their crimes as 16- and 17-year-olds. The day is here.

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