Detroit Free Press

January 30, 2004


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.


Detroit Free Press