Dallas Morning News

October 17, 2004


Society rightly holds children and adults to different standards. For example, it forbids children to vote, to smoke and to drink alcohol because it intuitively reasons that they aren’t mature enough. Now society can prove that children are less mature than adults. According to scientific evidence compiled by the American Medical Association, some regions of the brain, specifically those associated with impulse control, regulation of emotions, risk assessment and moral reasoning, don’t fully develop until after age 18.

The anatomical and behavioral differences between children and adults are important to consider because the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a case that could affect the death sentences of the 73 men in Texas and 11 other states who murdered before their 18th birthdays.

Missouri is appealing a state high court decision that executing juvenile offenders is “cruel and unusual” and therefore should be declared unconstitutional. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court forbade executions of the mentally retarded, so should it forbid executions of juvenile offenders, and on the same grounds that their brains aren’t fully developed, the Missouri court argues.

The Missouri justices are correct; the U.S. justices should validate their sound decision. As Dallas Morning News reporter Doug J. Swanson reported last week, the United States is the only developed country to permit underage executions, and Texas executes more juvenile offenders than any other state.

It goes without saying that the horrendous crimes that Mr. Swanson described should be punished. However, the ultimate penalty - death - should be withheld when the murderer may have been too immature to fully comprehend the moral dimensions of his action.

Murder is much worse than other crimes that young people may be tempted to commit and should be harshly punished. But if society can discern differences between juveniles and adults where smoking and drinking are concerned, then it should be able to do the same with regard to capital punishment.


Dallas Morning News