Birmingham (AL) News

July 26, 2004


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.


Birmingham (AL) News