[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 4 17:03:17 CST 2005
Death penalty use shrinking
The United States made a step toward joining the civilized world Tuesday,
when the Supreme Court effectively banned the execution of men and women
who committed crimes as juveniles.
Since 1990, only eight countries have permitted capital punishment for
crimes committed before the age of 18. Seven of those countries - Iran,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, China and Congo - have since
disavowed the barbaric practice of slaying children.
Only the United States, or more precisely the 19 American states that
permitted kid killing until this week's intervention by the high court,
continued to defend what the rest of the world had concluded was
indefensible. As Justice Anthony Kennedy observed in a review of the legal
landscape prior to the Supreme Court's intervention, "In sum, it is fair
to say that the United States now stands alone in a world that has turned
its face against the juvenile death penalty."
Now, with the court's 5-4 decision that the Constitution's ban on cruel
and unusual punishment categorically bars capital punishment for crimes
committed by individuals who have not yet reached adulthood, the United
States has begun to adopt an approach to the death penalty that fits
within the outer limits of the international discourse on crime and
Writing for the majority, Kennedy noted, "It is proper that we acknowledge
the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile
death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the
instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor
in the crime. The opinion of the world community, while not controlling
our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our
Kennedy's argument is a good one. While the United States is certainly not
required to follow world opinion on every issue, the approach adopted by
other countries can and should influence the interpretation of the law
here at home.
Hopefully, the court will continue to sample world opinion on capital
punishment issues. If it does, we can expect to see rapid movement to bar
the execution of the mentally ill, older teenagers and defendants who can
show evidence that they are the victims of racial discrimination.
If the court is serious about bringing the United States into line with
the rest of the developed world, however, it will have to do more than
merely chip away at the death penalty. Most Western nations - including
countries to which the United States is particularly close, such as Great
Britain - long ago abandoned capital punishment. Ultimately, we believe
the United States will do the same.
Unfortunately, between the present moment and the day when killing stops,
backward states will continue to take lives - including those of men and
women who were convicted under inappropriate circumstances, such as those
permitted in Texas when President George W. Bush was that state's governor
and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was his adviser on death penalty
Wisconsinites can be particularly thankful that our state does not permit
state-sponsored killing. Indeed, our 154-year-old ban on capital
punishment is older than that of any nation on the planet. Thus it can be
said that, as the United States catches up with the rest of the world, it
is also catching up with Wisconsin.
Needless to say, as the arc of history begins to bend away from the death
penalty, efforts by some of Wisconsin's less enlightened legislators to
bring the practice to this state must be thwarted. The Supreme Court's
wise decision in regard to the juvenile death penalty should make that
(source: Editorial, The (Madison, Wis.) Capital Times)
Give teens the power they deserve
I've harbored reservations about capital punishment ever since 1983, when
the Miami Herald dispatched me to cover my 1st execution in the aptly
named prison town of Starke, Fla.
So I'm neither surprised nor dismayed at the Supreme Court's conclusion
that civilized nations ought not to be in the business of frying their own
young, even when the punks in question have been very, very bad.
But I doubt this week's landmark ruling, which invalidates the death
sentences of 72 prisoners condemned for murders they committed before
turning 18, will quell the debate over when adult accountability attaches
to teenage conduct.
Nor should it. Even those of us with teenagers at home often wonder
whether they are vulnerable charges in need of special protection or
skilled predators at the peak of their destructive powers.
Are they significantly less culpable than those who've reached their 18th
birthdays? Or just more insulated than previous generations from the
consequences of bad behavior?
The high court's ruling in the case of Christopher Simmons, who was
awaiting execution in Missouri for a murder he committed when he was 17,
has incensed champions of capital punishment, who see it as the latest
excess of judicial activism. Where do justices get off, these critics ask,
usurping either the state legislators who've authorized teenage execution
or the juries who've prescribed it in specific cases?
But it's jurors and legislators, not appellate judges, who've increasingly
challenged the proposition that juvenile murderers should be treated like
their adult counterparts.
In 1988, when the Supreme Court declined to rule that the Eighth Amendment
barred the execution of 16- and 17-year-old murderers, only half the
states prohibited such executions. Now 30 states forbid capital punishment
for anyone under 18, and jurors have been increasingly reluctant to
condemn teenage murderers even where they have license to do so. In each
of the last 2 years, the Death Penalty Information Center reports, juries
have recommended death sentences for only two juvenile offenders.
A vote for voices
I've argued frequently in this column that legislators and prosecutors
should reconsider the 1990s groupthink that led them to eradicate many of
the distinctions between youthful offenders and their adult counterparts.
But a TV program I saw this week prompted me to wonder whether I and other
adults have been looking at teen accountability through the wrong end of
Maybe, instead of obsessing about the appropriate standards of criminal
culpability, we should be empowering more teens with the tools of civic
In this week's episode of "The West Wing," a group of teenage lobbyists
visits the White House seeking support for a constitutional amendment to
lower, or even abolish, the minimum voting age. "No one pays attention to
us because we're powerless," one future leader of America complains. "We
have no voice."
When a presidential adviser points out that teens are more vulnerable to
coercion, and less likely to have fully developed reasoning faculties, the
youthful lobbyists rejoin that the same arguments were invoked to prevent
women and African Americans from voting well into the 20th Century.
I don't know many parents who want to extend suffrage to every middle
school student. But perhaps, as we consider how to hold our youngest
citizens accountable for themselves, we should consider how to make
ourselves more accountable to them.
(source: Detroit Free Press)
Court steals states' prerogative
In 1992, before delivering the Supreme Court's ruling in an abortion case,
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has a penchant for self-dramatization, stood
with a journalist observing rival groups of demonstrators and mused:
"Sometimes you don't know if you're Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or
Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line." Or perhaps you are a would-be
legislator, a dilettante sociologist and freelance moralist, disguised as
Last Tuesday Kennedy played those three roles when, in yet another 5-4
decision, the court declared it unconstitutional to execute persons who
murder when under 18. Such executions, it said, violate the Eighth
Amendment proscription of cruel and unusual'' punishments because ...
well, Kennedy's opinion, in which Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined, is a tossed salad of
reasons why those 5 think the court had a duty to do what state
legislatures have the rightful power and, arguably, the moral
responsibility to do.
Although the court rendered an opposite decision just 16 years ago,
Kennedy says the nation's "evolving standards of decency" now rank such
executions as cruel and unusual. One proof of this, he says, is:
Of the 38 states that have capital punishment, 18 bar executions of those
who murder before age 18, 5 more than in 1989. So he constructs a
"national consensus" against capital punishment of juvenile offenders by
adding a minority of the states with capital punishment to the 12 states
that have decided "that the death penalty is inappropriate for all
But "inappropriate" is not a synonym for unconstitutional." Kennedy simply
assumes that those 12 states must consider all capital punishment
unconstitutional, not just wrong or ineffective or more trouble than it is
worth - 3 descriptions that are not synonymous with "unconstitutional."
While discussing America's "evolving standards of decency," Kennedy
announces: "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of
international opinion against the juvenile death penalty." Why is that
proper when construing the U.S. Constitution? He is remarkably unclear
about that. He says two international conventions forbid executions of
persons who committed their crimes as juveniles. That, he thinks, somehow
illuminates the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.
Kennedy, self-appointed discerner of the national consensus on penology,
evidently considers it unimportant that the United States attached to one
of the conventions language reserving the right "to impose capital
punishment ... for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age." The
United States never ratified the other convention Kennedy cites.
Kennedy the sociologist says "any parent knows" and "scientific and
sociological studies" show that people under 18 show a "lack of maturity"
and an "underdeveloped sense of responsibility." This means, he says, that
young offenders "cannot with reliability be classified among the worst
Well. Is it gauche to interrupt Kennedy's seminar on adolescence with some
perhaps pertinent details? The 17-year-old in the case the court was
considering bragged about planning to do what he then did: He broke into a
woman's home, put duct tape over her eyes and mouth, wrapped her head in a
towel, bound her limbs with electrical wire, then threw her off a railroad
trestle into a river where, helpless, she drowned.
Justice Scalia, joined in dissent by Justices William Rehnquist and
Clarence Thomas (Justice Sandra Day O'Connor dissented separately),
deplores "the new reality that, to the extent that our Eighth Amendment
decisions constitute something more than a show of hands on the current
Justices' current personal views about penology, they purport to be
nothing more than a snapshot of American public opinion at a particular
point in time (with the timeframes now shortened to a mere 15 years)."
Kennedy occupies the seat that 52 Senate Democrats prevented Robert Bork
from filling in 1987. That episode accelerated the descent into the
scorched-earth partisanship that was raging in the Senate Judiciary
Committee at the very moment Tuesday morning that Kennedy was presenting
the court majority's policy preference as a constitutional imperative. The
committee's Democrats were browbeating another appellate court nominee,
foreshadowing another filibuster.
The Democrats' standard complaint is that nominees are out of the
jurisprudential "mainstream." If Kennedy represents the mainstream, it is
time to change the shape of the river. His opinion is an intellectual
train wreck, but useful as a timely warning about what happens when
judicial offices are filled with injudicious people.
(source: George Will is a nationally distributed columnist; Helenair)
Pushing aside the emotionalism on all sides of the debate, a slender 5-4
majority of the U.S. Supreme Court this week embraced one of the oldest
notions in criminal law and rejected capital punishment for juveniles.
In order to commit a crime, a defendant has to have the mental capacity to
be aware of his actions and their ramifications, Justice Anthony Kennedy
wrote. Youngsters under age 18 have a "diminished capacity," and therefore
(as with the mentally impaired or the insane) are "categorically less
culpable" than competent adult criminals.
As a result, executing juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment
and is unconstitutional.
For those who believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent of
heinous crimes and an appropriate punishment, this decision will be a
bitter one. Justices Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O'Connor articulated
Given the nature of crimes sometimes committed by young people, their
indignation is understandable. Consider the case of Kentucky convict Kevin
Stanford. He was just 17 when he committed a grisly murder in 1981,
nonetheless was sentenced to death. In a 1989 decision, the U.S. Supreme
Court upheld that conviction -- and Justice Kennedy voted with the
15 years later, the change of that same justice's vote shifted the Court
to the other side, and Mr. Kennedy noted this in his ruling, praising
former Gov. Paul Patton for "ensuring Kentucky would not add itself to the
list of states that have executed juveniles within the last 10 years."
The Court heard a variety of arguments against the juvenile death penalty.
One popular argument is that public opinion -- domestically and abroad --
is against it. (A 2003 Gallup Poll cited by the president of the American
Bar Association showed 69 % of Americans opposed. Most civilized nations
Emotions may sway a court, but the Supreme Court must find its answers in
the law and precedent, not in the heart. Consequently, Justice Kennedy was
wise to root his decision in the established principle of capacity. If a
juvenile, like the mentally impaired, is incapable of understanding his
actions, he should not be executed for them.
This editorial page is not a court of law, and we've concluded that
capital punishment is an ineffective, sometimes discriminatory and deeply
flawed remedy for crime. That said, our hope is that despite the
narrowness of the vote, the high court's legal reasoning will prevail.
(source: Editorial, Courier-Journal)
No real surprise
The Supreme Court's ruling that the death penalty cannot be applied to
killers who committed their crimes while younger than 18 was a reasonable
and not-too-surprising interpretation of the current state of capital
As the 5-4 majority observed, 18 states and the federal government reserve
the most severe punishment for convicted killers 18 and older; another 12
states have no death penalty at all.
Since 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled that no national consensus
against the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-old murderers had emerged, 5
states have abandoned the punishment; the federal government adopted a new
death penalty statute that applied only to adults; and only six states --
including Texas -- have executed prisoners for crimes committed while they
The new limit on executions, based on the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel
and unusual punishment, does not diminish the gravity of murder,
regardless of a killer's age.
But it does reflect a determination that minors don't fit into that small
category of prisoners most deserving of the ultimate sentence. As Justice
Anthony Kennedy noted in the majority opinion in a Missouri case,
juveniles tend to be more reckless and susceptible to negative influences
In addition, he said: "The reality that juveniles still struggle to define
their identity means it is less supportable to conclude that even a
heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably
depraved character. From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to
equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater
possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be
Kennedy noted that the court's sense that execution is a disproportionate
punishment for those who kill before age 18 "finds confirmation in the
stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that
continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."
His references to foreign law, contained in a 4-page section at the end of
the 25-page opinion, drew a sharp rebuke from Justice Antonin Scalia and 2
other dissenters, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence
Kennedy's foreign law references were not, however, the basis for the
ruling, as those dissenters implied. As Kennedy wrote, "The opinion of the
world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected
and significant confirmation for our own conclusions."
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the ruling was the absence of
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor from the majority. O'Connor had been a pivotal
vote in previous cases involving capital punishment for juvenile and
mentally retarded killers.
O'Connor said that, as a legislator, she might support a death penalty age
limit at 18, but, as a justice, she isn't convinced that a national
consensus has developed to draw such a constitutional line.
And she raised what is surely the conundrum of making age 18 the
categorical divide between eligibility for death and a life sentence:
There are 17-year-old killers, and maybe 16-year-old ones, who act in such
calculated and vicious ways that arguably they should be held as culpable
as an adult.
Nevertheless, juries still will be able to sentence those offenders to
long lifetimes in prison, and that should continue to be a sobering
thought to those who would kill -- and to society.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Death penalty's future looking pretty grim
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday tightened the noose, so to speak, on
capital punishment in America. Three years after banning execution of the
mentally retarded, the Rehnquist Court has found that execution of
criminals who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes is an
unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution and its prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."
The facts of Roper v. Simmons involve a man who, at the age of 17,
murdered 46-year-old Shirley Crook by binding her in duct tape and
dropping her from a bridge into a ravine in a Missouri state park. Simmons
not only confessed to the crime, but he went so far as to volunteer to
reenact the crime on videotape; such was his boastful certainty that he
would escape conviction because of his age. But a jury sentenced Simmons
to death, and he has sat on death row for more than a decade as his appeal
made its way to the Marble Temple in Washington, D.C.
This decision overturns the convictions of Simmons and more than 70 other
murderers currently on death row in 12 of the 20 states that allow
prosecutors the option of pursuing capital punishment in cases where
defendants were minors at the time they allegedly committed the crime for
which they were convicted.
It's ironic that it has taken a relatively conservative Supreme Court to
dip the toe of the country tentatively into the warm waters of advanced
Western civilization. One can only imagine the consternation of President
Bush at this news; with him as governor, Texas was rivaled in its number
of executions only by Florida, the state run by his beloved brother, Jeb.
If any family truly enjoys watching human beings fry, it's the Bush clan.
Public support of government-sanctioned killing in America is a massive
barrier between us and other industrialized countries with advanced
cultures and substantial economic growth. The only other governments on
the planet that condone capital punishment are the ones either under
physical attack or the threat of it as "enemies of freedom." The
similarities between America and those states declared malevolent by Bush
The U.S. stance on capital punishment is not Bush's fault, though; he
inherited a long history of bloodlust that is almost as time-honored as
the vellum on which the U.S. Constitution is written.
But, according to several opinion polls, the revelation that more than 100
wrongly accused and convicted death row inmates have been exonerated by
conclusive DNA evidence during recent years has too slowly softened the
resolve of many proponents of capital punishment. These timely absolutions
beg the sorrowful question: How many innocent men and women have been
shot, hanged, electrocuted, gassed, injected or worse during the three
centuries of U.S. history? That thought should weigh heavily on even the
purest of American souls.
(source: The Arkansas Traveler)
More information about the DeathPenalty