Capital Punishment, or the penalty of death for crimes committed by a defendant, is a controversial topic in today’s society. In general, the public associates this method of punishment with adult offenders who commit heinous crimes. What about the defendants who are not adults? In some states, defendants as young as 16 years old have been tried as adults and eligible to receive the death penalty. Juveniles are being punished as adults, yet, in every other aspect of the law, they are not held to the same standards.
Is it public outcry for justice to be served that allows for such a consequence for our children or should the juvenile justice system be responsible for implementing measures that protect our children from punishments of death? The law states that United States citizens become of legal age on their 18th birthday. They are free to vote, buy cigarettes, incur debt, make their own decisions, get married, and be subjected to all adult measures of criminal prosecution for their crimes.
Ironically they still cannot legally rent a car, in most states, or purchase/drink alcohol). However, the Judicial system can retract this standard age and prosecute offenders to adult culpability as young as 16 (Death Penalty Information Center).
Determining whether an offender can be tried as an adult most certainly has guidelines. The factors vary by state, but based on the Supreme Court’s direction in Kent v. United States, they generally include the following: the nature of the crime; whether the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, or premeditated manner; the merit of the charges; the sophistication, maturity, and prior history of the minor; public protection; and the likelihood that the child can be treated and rehabilitated (Hurabiell,et al. ). Most commonly, the debate to execute juveniles stems from individual interpretation of the U. S Constitution’s Eighth Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishments, especially for children and the mentally retarded (Harvard Law Review).
Opponents and pro constituents battle over whether the mental capacity of adolescence can be comparable to those deemed mentally handicapped. Recent scientific study concludes that although juveniles, ranging from 14 to 19, may have physical characteristics of adults, they still have developing brain anatomy that could hinder their ability to be culpable for their actions (American Bar Association). So should juveniles be considered mentally inapt to receive the death penalty, or should juveniles receive comparable punishment to their crime?
The idea that the United States allows for individuals under legal age to receive the death penalty is also widely argued. From 1973 to 2001, 18 juvenile executions have taken place, leading the world in state-sanctioned juvenile executions (James). According to the International Journal of Children’s Rights, in October of 2003, the United States was the only nation to have reportedly executed juvenile offenders and over the last decade executed more juveniles than every other nation in the world combined.
Some would say that the rest of the world has already concluded that execution of juveniles is an atrocity while others believe that increase in juvenile crime deserves harsher deterrents and the rest of the world should follow in our standards(ProCon. org). A third stance appears to be gaining suit among debates over juvenile capital punishment. Some argue that the instances of juvenile death penalty were so infrequent and low compared to adult inmates on death row, that the whole controversy is more hypothetical than a reality in today’s standards since the ruling of Roper v.
Simmons, in 2005, allows that no persons committing a crime under the age of 18 can be sentenced to death(James). If one chooses this viewpoint, does it justify past executions or does it condemn them? Below are two separate cases of juvenile death penalty sentences, each with separate outcomes and yet similarities. Do you think either sentence is justified? In the case of Ruben Cantu, a 17 year old black male, the death penalty was imposed for a guilty verdict of attempted murder and murder. The crime was carried out with an accomplice, who was 15 at that time, and the victim was shot several times with a rifle.
Ruben grew up on the streets of Texas and was also a 9th grade drop out. His parents were divorced by the time he was 14 and he grew up in poverty living with his father. He was enrolled in special education classes throughout his school years. Cantu’s accomplice received life imprisonment and Cantu’s death penalty was carried out by lethal injection on August 24th, 1993. The key witness in prosecuting Cantu, Joe Moreno, recanted his testimony after the injection. Cantu’s final request was for a piece of bubble gum, which was denied (Olsen). In the case of Christopher
Simmons, a 17 year old white male from Missouri, a death sentence was imposed for the brutal murder of a woman. Simmons and an accomplice admittedly concocted a plan to break in and murder the victim. Simmons testified, and in some cases, bragged that he “hog tied” the victim, beat her savagely, and then drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge into the river. The jury was unanimous in sentencing death due to the heinous nature of his crime. Simmons and his attorneys filed appeals, claiming that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.
Simmons cited childhood abuse and drug addiction for his actions, and Simmons won his appeal, aka Roper v. Simmons, and his death sentence was overturned. Simmons is currently serving life in prison with no possibility of parole (CWLA). Determining which offense is heinous enough, or which defendant is culpable enough is quite the hardship in having a definitive stance on juvenile capital punishment. Should public opinion influence decisions or should moral decency and ethics be the deciding factor?
Perhaps medical evidence should determine whether juveniles should be responsible for their crimes and at what age they should be held responsible. Does the adult and juvenile justice system merge into some gray area? It seems reasonable that there must be some understanding that there is a difference between adult offenders and juvenile offenders, hence a separate justice system. The question looms, should we protect our youth at all costs no matter what the crime or should we protect the public at all costs from youth crime?
Cite this Juvenile Death Penalty
Juvenile Death Penalty. (2017, Mar 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/juvenile-death-penalty/