The Issue of Death Penalty for Juveniles

The United States of America has a deep history of the execution of juveniles. The first execution in America happened in Plymouth county Massachusetts, Thomas Granger was hanged on September 8, 1642, for Beastiality. Now no one in the United States is executed for bestiality it is still punishable for jail time. During the 1600s laws were different more crimes were punishable with the capital sentence. We can't judge people in the past the same way we judge people today because they are a product of their time. Over the course of history in the United States, more than 360 juveniles have been executed. Laws have changed that lead to the end execution of juveniles in the United States with three major cases. Is it moral to execute juvenile criminals because they have done crimes usually committed by adults? Should children be heald at the same standards as adults for their actions? How much is developed in a child’s brain and do they have similar intelligence quotient and brain maturity of adults?

The supreme court did not have an issue of juveniles for most of the United States' history, it was not a problem for the executions for juveniles. It only became a problem when the United States became more developed in the world. When the united states became more developed we started questioning past laws with morals. As society advances morals and what is considered right and wrong also changes. In the case of the united state it has advanced for the better. According to the great American court cases surprising how young someone could be executed. “ At that time [when the Bill of Rights was adopted], common law set the … presumption of incapacity to commit any felony at the age of 14, and theoretically permitted capital punishment to be imposed on anyone over the age of 7 … Thus petitioners are left to argue that their punishment is contrary to the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”(3) Since the push for reason with society and the value of life in recent times the death penalty has been walked back.

The first big case in the supreme court that looked at this issue was Thompson V. Oklahoma.” William Wayne Thomson along with three accomplices, actively participated in the murder of his former brother in law”(108) Mr. Thomson was very young at the time only 15 years old when he committed the crime. He faced trial as an adult in Oklahoma even though he was a child under the law. One of the reasons the jury gave him the death penalty was the prosecutor fought hard to make the jury understand the dangers if he was ever released. This is not a good method usually because we don’t know if someone will commit a crime after jail because people change over time. We only can guess if the person will commit more offensives. Like Craig Price, we are very confident that if he was released he would commit another crime but we can’t be 100 percent sure. Anyways the prosecutor at the time of Thomson sentencing. “ The Prosecutor asked the jury to find that aggravating circumstances existed, namely: that the murder was particularly heinous and cruel, and that there was a reasonable probability that the defendant would present a continuing threat to society if set free.”(109) This statement is one of the factors that led a jury to give such a young man the death sentence. Why was this significate the decision went to court and it was a 5 v 3 outcome that made it illegal to execute anyone under the age of 16 in the United States The dissenting opinions of the judges in the trial. “ Justice Scalia argued, to the contrary, that Thompson qualified for both adult certification and the death penalty as determined, respectively” (1) This option concluded that he felt that Mr. Thompson was fully aware of what he was doing and deserved to face consequences ad an adult.

The majority opinion felt that is was cruel and unusual to execute a juvenile under the age of 16 concluded by five justices.“ Justice Brennan considered that a severe punishment must not be degrading to the dignity of human beings, arbitrarily inflicted, excessive, or unacceptable to contemporary society.''*' Similarly, Justice Marshall determined that a punishment must not be intolerably painful and sufferable, unusual, excessive, or offensive to society's contemporary values”.(1) Justice stevens Many of the justices looked at what is considered as an adult Many surrounding facts such as age requirements that states have to protect minors such as.” the Court observed that none of the state jurisdictions allows a fifteen-year-old to vote or serve on a jury. Furthermore, all but one of the states prohibit a fifteen-year-old from driving without parental consent, all but four prohibit a fifteen-year-old from marrying without parental consent,” (1) This was taken into account when the justices made a decision.

The second important case we look at in the history of juvenile executions is Stanford v. Kentucky “ Kevin Stanford was 17 years old when he brutally murdered Barbel Poore in Jefferson County, Kentucky”(110). This crime was horrendous according to the reports Stanford and his accomplices raped and shot her. The case was brought to the supreme court, the court looked at many of the existing laws that states currently hold. The justices looked at laws in many states to come up with a conclusion on does this violate the 8th amendment? According to justice scalia “ Justice Scalia held that the primary and most reliable evidence of national consensus, the pattern of federal and state laws, failed to show a settled consensus against the execution of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offenders.” (4) Since at the time of this it was not an issue of executing someone 16- 18 years of age. Why was Kevin Stanford charged with the death penalty some of the reason was he was aware of what he did and this was a vevy brutal murder. He didnt show any remorse he was sorry for himself “This killer laughed and boasted about his horrible treatment of the innocent murder victim to an accomplice, the getaway driver, other inmates, and to correction officers.” (Blanco) The laughter of the criminal shows that he had little remorse for his actions that he committed. Kevin Stanford is still alive today and is serving a life sentence without parole.

The third case that leads to the major rule for juvenile executions is Roper V. Simmons.”Christopher Simmons was 17 years old when he committed a brutal murder. Before committing the crime, Simmons states that he wanted to kill someone”(113)

Should children be held to the same standard as adults? In America we have two justice systems adults and juveniles their is a difference.” The juvenile justice system was introduced as a more effective alternative to the adult criminal justice system for addressing the needs of juvenile offenders (Siegel & Welsh, [22]). The juvenile justice system was developed with rehabilitation in mind, not punishment” (6) We hold some juveniles at a lower standard than we do other juveniles in the court it depends on the crime.

What are child's Brain maturity compared to adults? As a society we understand that children are less developed and have less experience in the world to make good rational decisions.As a society we understand that teenagers make dumb mistakes in their lifes some who is 30 cant belive some of their decigions they made when they were 16. We can see this in the brain maturity “ Willson says statistics show that at the age of 18 the vast majority of accidents caused by young drivers are down to bad judgment and decision making and that behind the wheel 'adult maturity isn't fully formed until you get past 25 for most cases of people” (7) The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain is very important and can explain why we look back on ourself in years the wonder why we made bad decisions in childhood. “ This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.”(8) When we grow older this part of the brain will develop more and more. Maturity

Just like today when are we really adults? Most 18-year-olds live at home and are still in school or just starting to work. Are 18-year-olds really adults because they can use a forklift with certification and most heavy equipment. What they can't do drive commercial trucks must be 21, buy alcohol, legal marijuana 21 and increasing tobacco products is becoming 21. Even today we are making a distinction on what is an adult and a child. It is commonly known that the brain is not fully mature until the age of 25 this also varies by person to person but not by much.

Work Cited

  1. Dominic J. Ricotta, Eighth Amendment--The Death Penalty for Juveniles: A State's Right or a Child's Injustice, 79 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 921 (1988).
  3. Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361, 405 (1989). Frank D Wagner
  4. (2)
  5. Stanford V. Kentucky. (1999). In M. F. Mikula, L. M. Mabunda, & A. M. Marion (Eds.), Great American court cases, Gale. Farmington, MI: Gale. Retrieved from
  6. Stanford V. Kentucky. (2008). In L. J. Palmer, Encyclopedia of capital punishment in the United States (2nd ed.). Jefferson, NC: McFarland. Retrieved from
  7. Blanco, J. I. (n.d.). Kevin Stanford: Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers. Retrieved from
  8. Howell, R. J., & Hutto, T. S. (2012). Sentencing Convicted Juvenile Felony Ofenders in the Adult Court: The Direct Effects of Race. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 30(6), 782-799.
16 December 2021
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