Skip to comments.High Court Ends Death Penalty for Youths
Posted on 03/01/2005 7:32:36 AM PST by So Cal Rocket
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.
The 5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers and bars states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes.
The executions, the court said, were unconstitutionally cruel.
It 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.
The court had already outlawed executions for those who were 15 and younger when they committed their crimes.
Tuesday's ruling prevents states from making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for execution.
Justice Anthony Kennedy (news - web sites), writing for the majority, noted 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 practice.
"Our society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the average criminal," Kennedy wrote.
Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in just a few other countries, including Iran (news - web sites), Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. All those countries have gone on record as opposing capital punishment for minors.
The Supreme Court has permitted states to impose capital punishment since 1976 and more than 3,400 inmates await execution in the 38 states that allow death sentences.
Justices were called on to draw an age line in death cases after Missouri's highest court overturned the death sentence given to a 17-year-old Christopher Simmons, who kidnapped a neighbor in Missouri, hog-tied her and threw her off a bridge. Prosecutors say he planned the burglary and killing of Shirley Crook in 1993 and bragged that he could get away with it because of his age.
The four most liberal justices had already gone on record in 2002, calling it "shameful" to execute juvenile killers. Those four, joined by Kennedy, also agreed with Tuesday's decision: Justices John Paul Stevens (news - web sites), David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (news - web sites) and Stephen Breyer (news - web sites).
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia (news - web sites) and Clarence Thomas (news - web sites), as expected, voted to uphold the executions. They were joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (news - web sites).
Currently, 19 states allow executions for people under age 18: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia.
In a dissent, Scalia decried the decision, arguing that there has been no clear trend of declining juvenile executions to justify a growing consensus against the practice.
"The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: 'In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty,' he wrote in a 24-page dissent.
"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards," Scalia wrote.
Scalia for Chief Justice!
Wow, I must have really poor reading skills since I have never found anything in the constitution delineating age restrictions related to crime and punishment. I see it is the same four usual suspects plus Kennedy that rendered this truly horrible opinion on the rest of the country. Forget about representative government. Forget about the right of the states to determine how to deal with brutal murderers. These five arbiters of the law get to dictate to the rest of us how we can apply justice. With the imminent loss of Rehnquist from the court, we sure do need to have two or more of these leftist devotees of central government power to fall off of the court in the next couple of years for the safety of the Republic. Something must turn this court around while we still have a Constitution left.
Maybe the judge would like to take several of those bad-boys home for a few weeks to show us all how nice they are.
It's truly unfortunate that the Supreme Court has taken this moment to give criminal gang members a shield against punishment. Time to get a new court, FUR SHUR.
Unbelieveable that there were even four justices in support of killing children.
You're either pro-life or you're not.
Well, now we're no longer in the company of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, the only countries left in the world which still execute minors.
Much more of this & I'll need to learn not to give a s***.
This is the logic that bothered me... Kennedy based his decision on a trend... not the Constitution.
Where did it say that was his basis? It simply said that was a note in the majority decision.
Yes, the US is beginning to look more & more like the rest of the world, isn't it.
Pro innocent life.
As if we were? DA statement w/o some support.
The murdering gang-bangers typically involved hardly qualify as "children".
Do parents have the right to judge their children?
At what age should parents impose the death penalty?
so...the entire arguement turns on what Justice Kennedy personally perceives as a "trend"...now THAT is intellectually weak!
And...a murderer is pro-life?
As far as I know, we haven't executed a teenager yet. I thought it takes about 15+ years before an execution is done.
Justice Kennedy is intellectually weak!
AMEN! Convicted murderers should die, as justice demands it. I cannot understand why individuals can not see a difference between the murder of innocent life due to the choice of one individual and capital punishment of a convicted murderer decided by jury and properly legislated by a democratic republic.
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