Daily Targum (Rutgers University)

October 20, 2004


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.


Daily Targum (Rutgers University)