Detroit Free Press

October 16, 2004

Even death penalty supporters ought to hope that the U.S. Supreme Court ends the barbaric practice of executing murderers who killed when they were 16 or 17.

The United States is virtually alone in permitting the execution of minors. Only six other nations have allowed it since 1990, and those countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, have practically abandoned using it.

Justices have already acknowledged that maturity and mental capacity help determine a legal level of responsibility. They have applied the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment when a killer lacks the ability to understand his or her actions. The high court outlawed executions for those 15 or under when they committed their crimes, and for the mentally retarded. Still, 19 states continue to allow the death penalty for older teenagers.

The arguments against the death penalty for adults are persuasive enough. Minorities and the poor make up most death row inmates. DNA technology has shown that a disquieting number of them are innocent. Moreover, because of legal challenges, the death penalty is costly, and no evidence shows that it deters.

The case against executing juveniles is even more compelling. Society doesn’t extend adult rights to 16- and 17-year-olds because it believes they do not possess the same maturity and judgment. Nor should they, generally, suffer the same consequences. That doesn’t mean minors should not be punished, but the most severe sanction possible for adults is not appropriate for juveniles.

The Supreme Court can bring the nation in line with its own Constitution — and all standards of decency — by outlawing the execution of children.


Detroit Free Press