Juvenile Justice: Capital Punishment
In the year 2002, the supreme court of the United States banned the imposition of death sentence to people with mental retardation. It is with this light that the court in Atkins v. Virginia case cited and included underdeveloped mental abilities to the category of mental incapacity. This meant that the court considered the young mental abilities of young people. The court considered the adolescence age as a period of childhood. The court held that at adolescence, the child is not yet mature enough to be considered an adult in legal terms. The court observed that the adolescent child is at crossroad marked with several changes in judgment, hormones and emotions. In addition, the child also faces several physical and body changes that affects his or her understanding.
Stanford v. Kentucky (1989)
The petitioner in the case was around 17 years of age when he had killed in Kentucky. After conducting the hearings, a juvenile court transferred his case from being tried as a juvenile to a trial as an adult. The case went on under the necessary laws and was charged with first class felony which is also referred to as capital crime (Cohen, 2013). This is charged to people with the age of sixteen years and above. In the case, the petitioner was found guilty and was sentenced to death.
The supreme court of the state later affirmed the conviction and the death sentence. This way, the court rejected the contention of the petitioners that he had legal rights for special treatment in the case as a juvenile. The court declared that his plea could not be granted since his age was reflecting his ability to make the right judgments. This is because when he was committing the murder, he was aged around 16 years and 5 months (Logan, 1998). This age was warranted by the court and the justice system to be tried as an adult. This was in a state that had permitted such an action against people between the age of 14 to 17 years who were facing capital offences. Despite his plead for guilty and expecting special juvenile case, he was sentenced to death.
The Court affirmed the death conviction and rejected the contention that in sentencing, there was violation of the Eighth Amendment. First, in coming to a decision on whether the punishment violated the standards of decency, the side of the petitioner had failed to illustrate beyond doubt a settled national agreement against the death sentence of offenders at the age of 16 to 17 years (Justia, 2013). Of the all the states that allow capital punishment in the United States of America, 15 of them decline to impose the death sentence on offender`s aged16 years and 12 stated declined to impose the sentence on 17-year-old offenders.
Atkins v Virginia
In this case, the court ruled that execution of offenders with mental retardation violates the ban by the Eighth Amendment on unusual and seemingly cruel punishments. The case stated that the states can define on their own right on who is mentally retarded (Justia, 2013). The United States Eighth Amendment to the Constitution banned sentences described as cruel and unusual punishments. The court stated that, the Eighth Amendment need to be defined in light of new standards that present progress of a better society unlike other Constitutional provisions (Cohen, 2013). This is evident as the definition of the amendment was to be determined by the acts of state legislatures.
The Court also found that the imposition of capital penalty was banned by Eighth Amendment in the cases because majority of the legislatures had on recent times addressed the issue (Justia, 2013). In case the legislations had rejected capital punishment for the offenders then it meant that the Court will in most cases defer to such judgments by the legislative bodies. In the case, the Court described how the contention that people with mental retardation do not have to be executed was formulated. The contention started with Georgia as the first state that outlawed the execution of people with mental retardation (Justia, 2013). This decision was followed by the Congress after two years as well as Maryland and then states started considering the jurisdictions.
Robert V Simmons
In this case, the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States was that it was against the constitution to impose capital punishment to offenders of capital offense aged 18 years and below (Supreme Court, 1998). This case overruled prior ruling of the court to uphold such sentences on capital offenders at the age of 16 in the Stanford v. Kentucky case (Logan, 1998). The ruling overturned the statutes in several states which presented a penalty set lower. The appeal court case ruling challenged the legality of capital punishment for juveniles especially when they committed the crimes at juvenile age (Supreme Court, 1998). This argument by the court purely cited the need to protect the Eighth Amendment from cruel and unusual punishments.
The rulings incorporate elements of sociology, biology and psychology. In sociological terms, the acceptability of the ruling under review is based on the social overview of murder and the criminal nature of the act. In a community that expects people to behave in normal social set up, murder is a crime no matter how it is executed or who executes it (Katsh, 2008). From this perspective, the issue is therefore not debatable that the crime committed is equal no matter the age of the capital offender.
The arguments on the biological elements of the growth in relation to the state of mind of juveniles are considered in determining their degree of responsibility for crimes committed (Logan, 1998). In psychological terms, there is the feeling that juveniles do not have a well developed mental capacity the argument is therefore proposed that their situation should be considered as mental inability in legal terms. The court held the conclusions on the case with consideration of the arguments presented by the petitioners (Katsh, 2008). These issues are addressed in the considerations of the case by the court in the three cases.
In regard to Stanford v. Kentucky case, the Court rejected the contention that petitioners cited some laws which set the age of 18 years or more as the reference legal age for young people to engage in various criminal activities. These activities may lead crime as they range from driving with no license to drinking alcohol. They also include legal responsibilities such as voting and others that may not be relevant to this case (Cohen, 2013). As per the court ruling, it is absurd to hold the contention that a person must be of certain age enough to drink responsibly, to drive carefully or to vote responsibly. The court held that it is even more absurd to assume that in order to be considered mature enough, one has to understand that killing another person is profoundly wrong (Logan, 1998).
The social aspects of juveniles may be influenced by their biological growth. Their mental abilities for instance affect their social actions and consciousness which makes them consider the repercussions of the actions (Katsh, 2008). In the case, the Court also disapproved the argument by the petitioners that capital punishment to offenders aged 16- and 17-years should be invalidated because the sentences does not serve the aim that differentiated between juveniles. The differentiation between juveniles and adults takes a sociological perspective of the responsibility of capital offense based on age. The court held that having less developed mental abilities than adults does not make a person to be less fearful to death (Katsh, 2008). It does not either make a person any less conscious of the evils associated with the crime.
In the case of Stanford v. Kentucky, the court banned the execution of juveniles below age of 16. This provided a pathway for the execution of juveniles above this age but in the case of Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court broke the precedent and relied on sociology, psychology, biology, and general life elements just as in the case of Atkins v. Virginia (2002). The relying on the psychological issues in the case by the court meant that the case would consider growth aspects of people. It considered the changes that take place in a person`s body that affects the decision to act and commit a crime. This led to the decision of banning the execution for offenders below the age of 18 when they committed the crime.
Cohen, A. (2013). “At Last, the Supreme Court Turns to Mental Disability and the Death
Justia, 2013. Text of Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Retrieved From,
http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/536/304/case.html> 06 December 2013.
Katsh, M. (2008), Taking Sides. Clashing Views on Legal Issues. Boston:
McGraw Hill Higher Education
Logan, A. (1998). “Proportionality and Punishment: Imposing Life without Parole on
Juveniles”,Wake Forest Law Review 33: 681.
Supreme Court, 1998. Roper v. Simmons – Official U.S. Supreme Court opinion. Retrieved