Portsmouth (NH) Herald

April 14, 2004


“In no event shall any person under the age of 18 years at the time the offense was committed be culpable of a capital murder.”

This is the entire text of Senate Bill 513.

It is the simplest of statements, but if passed by the New Hampshire House it will have the most profound of effects.

This state remains one of only 19 that permits the execution of juveniles. While no juvenile has ever been put to death in this state - and, in fact, there hasn’t been a state-ordered execution since 1939 - it is chilling to think that a youngster could be convicted of a capital crime in New Hampshire, or anywhere else in the country, for that matter, and sentenced to death.

A legislative attempt to abolish the death penalty for both adults and children passed the House and Senate in 2000, but was subsequently vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Another attempt in 2001 failed passage in the House by just eight votes after Shaheen again threatened a veto.

There are widely varying positions on the death penalty, based on moral, religious and empirical factors. Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming abhorrence worldwide of putting young people to death.

An ABC poll conducted in the wake of the trial of 17-year-old spree killer Lee Boyd Malvo in Virginia showed that 62 percent of Americans preferred life imprisonment for even the most notorious juvenile killers, while only 21 percent favored putting them to death. A Gallup poll released in May 2002 reflected similar sentiments. Only 26 percent of those surveyed favored the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

Virtually every international organization - from the European Union to the United Nations - denounces the execution of juveniles.

It is critical that New Hampshire join the 31 other states and the many foreign countries that have changed their statutes to outlaw the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles, not only to protect its own children, but to serve as a model for the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that it looks at trends in state legislation as evidence of contemporary values and evolving standards of decency. The passage of Senate Bill 513 will send another much-needed message that Americans oppose the death penalty for juveniles.


Portsmouth (NH) Herald