Extending Roper: Is 18 Too Young?

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

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

For more discussion of these issues, see:

Execution of Youth under Age 21 on the Date of Offense: Ending with a Bang or a Whimper? by Hollis A. Whitson and Eric Samler, September 2019

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