[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA
j_sommer at gmx.net
Tue Mar 1 21:19:39 CST 2005
death penalty news
March 1, 2005
Juvenile execution banned for three reasons - Supreme Court decision uses
The Supreme Court declared the execution of anyone under the age of 18 to
be unconstitutional on Tuesday, effectively ending a practice used in 19
states. NBC's Justice Correspondent, Pete Williams, explains the
implications of the ruling.
What was the rationale for the court's decision?
Pete Williams: The court analyzed the question of whether it is
constitutional to execute offenders who were 16 or 17 when they committed
their crimes, under the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual
What the court said it had to do is see if there is "an emerging national
consensus" on the question and it concluded there is.
Some of this is mathematical. The court says that of the states that still
had the juvenile death penalty, five of them in the past 15 years have
decided to ban it, through legislation or court decision. In the rest of
the states, the number of juvenile executions has dropped.
The second reason the court cited is the scientific evidence.
The court said there is widespread agreement among mental health experts
that people under the age of 18, in general, are less morally responsible
for their crimes: their minds are less well developed, they're more
susceptible to peer pressure and they're less culpable, morally, for what
they do. The court said there is less evidence that people under 18 are
irretrievably immoral. And the decision says, there's a greater
possibility for these people to improve their characters.
Finally, the court said and I think this is a very controversial part of
the decision, sure to be widely debated if you look around at what the
rest of the world is doing, the United States is the only country left that
still executes offenders who were 16 and 17 when they committed murderers.
It said look at the number of countries who, within the past five to ten
years have moved away from it Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the
Congo. America is one of the only ones left. And therefore, the Supreme
Court says the international community has moved away from it as well. The
court said that's also a reason the death penalty should be struck down for
It was a close decision. What was the minority point of view?
In the 5-4 decision, the dissent was very spirited. Justice Antonin
Scalia, writing for the four dissenters Scalia, Sandra Day O'Conner,
Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist said the court's
math is all wrong. The reason states don't execute as many juveniles now,
Scalia said, is that juries are capable of taking youth into account.
Justice Scalia bitterly denounced the majority's reliance on international
law. He says it is entirely inappropriate for the Supreme Court to look at
what the rest of the world is doing, because the Supreme Court doesn't do
that all the time. The court, he says, just picks and chooses times when
it wants to look at international consensus. It doesn't do it on abortion,
He thinks that is not the way for the United States Supreme Court to
interpret the U.S. Constitution.
What are the implications of the decision?
This will affect about 73 juvenile offenders who are currently on death row
and it means from now on, no state may seek the death penalty for an
offender who was 16 or 17 when the crime was committed.
Incidentally, it was 15 years ago when the United States Supreme Court said
the death penalty is unconstitutional for anyone under 16. This decision
dealt only with 17 or 18 year olds.
(source: MSNBC.com. Pete Williams is NBC News' Justice Correspondent and is
based in Washington, D.C.)
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