Pensacola (FL) News Journal

July 26, 2004


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.


Pensacola (FL) News Journal