National Polls

Polling Prior to the Abolition of the Juvenile Death Penalty Showed that Only a Minority of Americans Supported the Execution of Juvenile Offenders

A series of public opinion polls conducted in the years leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of the juvenile death penalty showed that only about a third of Americans supported the use of capital punishment against those who were younger than 18 years old at the time of their crime. The survey results included the following:

  • A fall 2001 National Opinion Research Center poll found that while 62% of respondents favored the death penalty in general, only 34% supported the execution of juvenile offenders. In a series of follow-up questions that further probed respondents about their positions, it was determined that the opposition to the juvenile death penalty was firmer (89.5% of respondents did not change their position) than support for the death penalty generally (67% unchanged after follow-up questions).
  • A similar 2001 poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates revealed that while 72% of those polled supported the death penalty, only 38% supported it when applied to “juveniles younger than 18.”
  • A May 2002 Gallup poll found 72% support for capital punishment in general, but that support dropped to 26% for juveniles convicted of murder, 19% for the mentally ill, and 13% for the mentally retarded (now known as “intellectually disabled”).

(Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey, National Opinion Research Center, Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2003)

An ABC Poll Showed the Public Opposed the Death Penalty for Lee Malvo in Washington-area Sniper Shootings

A December 2003 poll conducted by ABC News revealed that only 37% of the public supported the death penalty for Lee Boyd Malvo, who had recently been convicted of murder in Virginia. Malvo was 17 at the time of a series of shootings in the Washington, DC area. 52% of respondents preferred a sentence of life without parole for Malvo. The poll revealed even stronger opposition to the death penalty for juveniles in general: only 21% were in favor of the death penalty for juveniles, versus 62% who preferred the sentence of life without parole. The poll was conducted Dec. 10-14 (ABC News, Dec. 19, 2003).

A CNN / Time Magazine Poll Showed a Wide Difference on the Death Penalty for the Adult Sniper Defendant Compared to Malvo

A Harris Interactive survey for CNN and Time magazine conducted in November 2002 found that 51% of respondents supported the death penalty for suspected Beltway sniper John Lee Malvo (who was a juvenile at the time of the crime) if he was found guilty, while 43 % favored life in prison. A significantly higher percentage (72%) of respondents supported the death penalty for suspect John Allen Muhammad, with 23% favoring life in prison. (National Journal, November 2, 2002)

2002 Gallup Poll Probing National Opinion on the Death Penalty

A May 2002 national death penalty poll conducted by the Gallup Organization found that, while the majority of Americans expressed support for capital punishment, they opposed executing those with mental retardation (now “intellectual disability”), who are mentally ill, or who were juveniles at the time of their crime. Only about half of Americans said they believed the death penalty was applied fairly. The poll found that 69% of Americans opposed capital punishment for juvenile offenders. (Gallup News Service, May 20, 2002). To see the complete results of this poll, visit the Gallup Web site (this link requires a subscription).

State Polls

ARIZONA: Arizonans Support Exempting Juveniles and those with Mental Retardation from Execution; Favor Moratorium.

A July 2000 poll by the Behavior Research Center found that support for the death penalty in Arizona dropped significantly when respondents were asked about specific circumstances or categories of offenders. The poll found that 42% of respondents opposed the death penalty if the convicted murderer was a juvenile offender, while only 37% supported its use in those circumstances. (Behavior Research Center, July 2000).

GEORGIA: Georgians Oppose Juvenile Death Penalty

A January 2003 University of Georgia poll found that 60% of Georgians favored trying to rehabilitate young offenders rather than executing them. Only 23% of respondents said courts should be allowed to give children the death penalty. In addition, 81% of those polled said they believed that judges should be granted greater flexibility in sentencing convicted children than would be permitted under the mandatory sentencing rules used for adults. At the time, Georgia law required juveniles ages 13 to 18-years-old to be tried in adult court and face adult penalties when they were accused of seven violent crimes, such as murder and rape. (The Augusta Chronicle, January 17, 2003)

KENTUCKY: Majority of Kentuckians Oppose Juvenile Death Penalty

An October 2002 poll by the University of Kentucky’s Survey Research Center found that 63% of respondents said they strongly favored or somewhat favored legislation that would restrict the death penalty to those 18 years or older; 32% somewhat opposed or strongly opposed such legislation. (The Courier-Journal, October 25, 2002)

OKLAHOMA: Oklahomans Support Ban on Execution of Juvenile Offenders

An April 2003 poll of Oklahoma residents revealed that 62.8% of those surveyed would support a legislative ban on the execution of juvenile offenders if the alternative sentencing option of life without the possibility of parole were offered. The polling results were released shortly before Oklahoma carried out the execution of a juvenile offender, Scott Allen Hain. (The Oklahoman, April 3, 2003)