Court Bars Death Penalty for Juveniles
Published: March 1, 2005
WASHINGTON -- The
Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Constitution forbids the
execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their
crimes, ending a practice used in 19 states.
5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of about 70 juvenile
murderers and bars states from seeking to execute minors for future
executions, the court said, were unconstitutionally cruel.
was the second major defeat at the high court in three years for
supporters of the death penalty. Justices in 2002 banned the execution
of the mentally retarded, also citing the Constitution's Eighth
Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
court had already outlawed executions for those who were 15 and younger
when they committed their crimes.
ruling prevents states from making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for
Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, cited the fact that most
states don't allow the execution of juvenile killers and those that do
use the penalty infrequently. The trend, he noted, was to abolish the
society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the
average criminal," Kennedy wrote.
whose laws do not provide for the death penalty for any crime:
MACEDONIA (former Yugoslav Republic)
MICRONESIA (Federated States)
SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
VATICAN CITY STATE
United States is virtually isolated in the world community as one of the
few nations that continues to carry out executions of juvenile
offenders. Since 2000, only five countries have reportedly executed
juvenile offenders: Congo,
Iran, Pakistan, China, and the United States.
However, at present time, all of these countries except the U.S. have
now renounced the practice. Numerous international treaties prohibit the
juvenile death penalty, the most notable being the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, which only two countries - Somalia and,
embarrassingly, the United States - refused to ratify. In fact, the
prohibition is so well established that the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights ruled in Domingues v. Nevada that executing those who
committed crimes while under the age of 18 is a violation of a "jus
cogens" - a sort of universal human rights standard -- making it
akin to genocide, slavery and apartheid.
court should consider the human rights standards established by the
international community and it is time that we join the rest of the
world in ending this indecent practice.
Killing Kids: Why it's Time to End the Indecent Practice of the Juvenile
As one whose
and mother-in-law have both died the victims of murder assassination, I
stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those
convicted of capital offenses. An
evil is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never
advanced in the taking of human life. Morality is never upheld by
Coretta Scott King
More death-penalty doubts
from USA Today Editorial, July 5, 2001
O'Connor's insinuation — that the nation's legal system is actively
killing innocent citizens — is supported by increasingly disturbing
data. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973, 96 inmates
sentenced to die have been freed from death row, 16 in just the past 30
months. Roughly two-thirds of all capital convictions are overturned on
appeal. But because the lawyering available to death-row inmates is so
uneven, few believe the appeals process catches every wrongful
As a high-court swing vote, O'Connor's opinions on matters such as
capital punishment are influential. But in this case, she is hardly
leading the charge. Many otherwise ardent death-penalty supporters have
long since accepted that the system is flawed and called for a
moratorium while it is repaired. Concurrently, public support for
capital punishment has declined to a 19-year low.
Depending on who's doing the talking, the motivating fear for reform
is either that the nation's legal system is discredited or that an
innocent person (make that, another innocent person) will be executed.
Either way, replacing death with a sentence of life without parole would
settle those doubts for good. In the meantime, O'Connor's belated
awareness of the systemic injustice of capital punishment handily
reinforces the growing bipartisan support for a moratorium, which in
turn will allow investigating lawmakers and jurists to confirm what they
already suspect: The death penalty's flaws are irremediable as well as
long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the
innocent can never be eliminated.
Since 1973, 117 prisoners have been released from death row in the USA,
after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they
were sentenced to death. There were five such cases in 2004. Some had
come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of
death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police
misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence,
or confessions; and inadequate defense representation. Other US
prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their
guilt. (see http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-facts-eng)
is no way to tell how many of the over 750 people executed since 1976
may also have been innocent. Courts do not generally entertain claims of
innocence when the defendant is dead. Defense attorneys move on to other
cases where clients' lives can still be saved.
details on just a few executed prisoners who had strong claims of
innocence, see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=6&did=111#executed.