Court Declares Juvenile Death Penalty Unconstitutional ||
The Supreme Court on Tuesday outlawed the juvenile death penalty, the practice
of executing those who commit murders before they are 18.
debate: Are teen murderers different from adults?
In a move applauded by many civil rights, religious and legal organizations, the
Supreme Court on Tuesday abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders, criminals
accused of committing crimes when they were under the age of 18. |
decision split the court, with just over half of the justices voting in favor
of making the practice unconstitutional.
"The age of 18 is the point
where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood.
It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest,"
wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted along with Justices David Souter, Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens in favor of the ban.
Justice William Renquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and
Clarence Thomas opposed the vote.
does the decision mean?|
By abolishing the juvenile death penalty, the justices overturned a 1989 Supreme
Court decision that allowed the juvenile death penalty to remain legal for 16
to 18 year olds, saying it did not violate constitutional rules against cruel
and unusual punishment.
Since that ruling, 22
juvenile offenders have been executed, 13 of them in the state of Texas. A majority
of those executed were African Americans, leading civil rights organizations such
as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to question the practice's fairness.
raise the particular concern, that conscious and unconscious racism operates to
punish adolescents of color more
harshly, and that is yet another reason why the death penalty should not be used
in these cases," Diann Rust-Tierney, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment
Project, said in a statement.
The states that currently allow executions
for people under age 18 are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia,
Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina,
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia.
throws out the sentences of 72 juvenile offenders currently on death row.
for and against the death penalty|
The question of whether capital punishment is a good deterrent when imposed
on people who commit crimes as teenagers and whether the United States is behind
the times in executing such offenders has been a critical social argument in recent
Because the United States is one of only three countries to maintain
the practice of executing juvenile offenders -- Iran and the Democratic Republic
of Congo are the others -- many people argue that the practice is cruel and archaic.
the other hand, many argue that 16 and 17 year olds are capable of understanding
the difference between right and wrong and are capable of making a decision about
whether to kill or not.
"Just as you have juveniles far brighter than
their compatriots or more athletic than their compatriots or more anything, you
also have some juveniles far more brutal than their compatriots who knowingly
and willingly go out and commit brutal offenses," Robert Horan, commonwealth
attorney for Fairfax County in Virginia, has said.
Leading up to its decision
on Tuesday, the court considered all sides of the argument. Does the Eighth Amendment's
rule against cruel and unusual punishment prevent the execution of juveniles?
Do "evolving standards of decency," the fact that most states now bar
the execution of juveniles, mean that the country as a whole is moving away from
the juvenile death penalty and therefore the court should also bar it? And should
the views of the international community have an impact on how the United States
treats its juvenile criminals?
dissenting opinion |
Justices opposed to the decision criticized the court for taking power away
from the states and said the United States should not consider what others do
in making laws.
"The court says in so many words that what our people's
laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter. ... The court
thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards," Justice
Scalia wrote in his dissent, adding that he does not feel qualified to fill that
Compiled for NewsHour Extra by Kristina Nwazota