Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Juvenile Executions

See this post - Juvenile executions - not ruled out? - for some feedback on today's arguments in Roper v. Simmons, in which the Supreme Court is reconsidering executing people for crimes they committed before they were adults. I think it's interesting that Justice Kennedy (a crucial vote) seemed to be really concerned with the brief by 6 states that permit such executions, in which gory murders were recounted.

SCOTUSBlog quotes : "“There is no principled basis,” the brief says, “for concluding that 16 and 17-year-old murderers, as a class, are categorically incapable of acting with a degree of moral culpability deserving of society’s severest punishment….A teenager who plots like an adult, kills like an adult, and covers up like an adult should be held responsible for his choices like an adult.”
Kennedy offered the brief as a counterpoint to a scientific argument relied upon heavily by Washington attorney Seth P. Waxman, who represents a juvenile, Christopher Simmons, who was sentenced to die in Missouri for a murder he committed at age 17 years and five months. Relying upon scientific findings, Waxman told the Court that “it is impossible to know whether a crime committed by a 16 or 17-year-old was a reflection of a true, enduring character, or a manifestation of the traits of a juvenile….No psychiatrist and no jury can say with confidence that a crime [committed by a juvenile] was due to an enduring quality or a transitory trait.”"

The Justices have to consider the constitutionality of executing for juvenile crimes. Luckily, the standard is based on the evolving standards of society, so they can pretty much find any outcome they want. I think that Kennedy is wrong to focus on the victims, however. If the focus of Constitutional law was on victims, the Bill of Rights would have been repealed long ago. The concern is that it is cruel and unusual to kill people who are not fully formed individuals. And of course, why is it that the age for being tried as an adult can be as low as 12, or 14 - but to be able to vote, or drive, or drink are all pegged at different ages? Presumably, the age at which these 'privileges' are pegged correlate to a presumed level of maturity in the individual. We're more than happy to let a child go to jail, charged as an adult at the age of 14 because, for some reason, if the crime is more serious, then he is more responsible - not less.

Gina Holland from the AP reports on Roper v. Simmons.

Also from the Baltimore Sun: Should a teenage killer have to pay with his life?
Three juveniles involved - one got a death sentence, one got life with parole, and one got 9 months in a juvenile facility.

Dahlia Lithwick, my very very favorite! The Young and the Reckless: The Supreme Court Contemplates Executing Juveniles

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