[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Mar 7 09:33:05 CST 2005
Kennedy Reversal Swings Court Against Juvenile Death Penalty
In banning capital punishment for juvenile offenders last week, the
Supreme Court once again demonstrated its pivotal role in domestic and,
indeed, world affairs.
The 5 to 4 ruling swept aside laws in 20 states that permitted juries to
sentence 16- or 17-year-old murderers to death, thus ending the United
States' status as the last country on Earth that sanctioned the execution
of those who commit crimes when they are younger than 18.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had joined a 1989 Scalia opinion allowing the
death penalty for juveniles.
And, to a large extent, this result was due to a remarkable evolution by a
single justice: Anthony M. Kennedy.
It is sometimes said that justices "grow in office," producing opinions
and casting votes on the court that confound the expectations of those who
appointed them. Kennedy, 68, a 1988 appointee of President Ronald Reagan,
has shown his unpredictability in the past. He changed his mind in the
middle of a crucial 1992 case, casting a fifth vote to uphold Roe v. Wade;
he disappointed conservatives again with a landmark pro-gay-rights opinion
Liberals gnashed their teeth when Kennedy flirted with permitting the
Florida recount to continue in 2000 -- before casting a 5th vote to shut
it down and propel George W. Bush into the White House.
But it is not often that a member of the court reconsiders his past views
on a major issue as thoroughly as Kennedy did last week, when he supplied
the court's 4-justice liberal bloc the 5th vote it needed to abolish the
death penalty for juveniles.
In 1989, during his 1st full term, Kennedy voted with a 5-justice majority
to uphold the death penalty for juvenile offenders. In that case, Stanford
v. Kentucky, he joined an opinion by fellow Reagan appointee Antonin
Reaching the opposite result in last week's case, Roper v. Simmons,
Kennedy, writing for the majority, argued that times have changed. The
number of states that either have no capital punishment or do not allow it
for offenders under 18 had reached 30 -- evidence, Kennedy wrote, of "a
national consensus" against the juvenile death penalty that had emerged
But his opinion also repudiated the legal reasoning he embraced in
Scalia's opinion 16 years ago.
For example, the 1989 opinion calculated "national consensus" differently,
excluding non-death-penalty states from the count; last week, Kennedy
wrote that Stanford was wrong about that.
In 1989, Scalia, with Kennedy's support, wrote there was "no relevance" to
laws that set 18 or more as the legal age for adult activities such as
drinking and voting -- and that it was "absurd" to consider them.
Last week, Kennedy appended to his opinion a list of state laws setting
the age for voting, jury service or marriage without parental consent at
18 or above. "The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for
many purposes between childhood and adulthood," Kennedy wrote. "It is, we
conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."
In 1989, Kennedy agreed with Scalia in brushing aside scientific studies
on the relative immaturity of adolescents. Such data could not prove
capital punishment fails to deter all 16- and 17-year-olds, or that
juveniles are inherently less morally blameworthy than adults; judgments
about deterrence and blameworthiness should be left up to legislatures and
juries, the Scalia-Kennedy opinion said.
Last week, though, Kennedy cited "scientific and sociological studies" for
the proposition that "it would be misguided to equate the failings of a
minor with those of an adult." The weighing of such factors could not be
left up to juries, Kennedy wrote, because there is "an unacceptable
likelihood" that jurors would be "overpower[ed]" by the brutal details of
some teenage crimes.
Kennedy had joined Scalia in 1989 in "emphatically rejecting" the
suggestion that the court could apply its "own informed judgment" to the
question of whether death is too harsh a punishment for any juvenile
crime. Last week, he wrote that that part of Stanford had been
"inconsistent with prior . . . decisions." And, although he had joined
Scalia in 1989 in "rejecting the contention . . . that the sentencing
practices of other countries are relevant," this time Kennedy wrote that
"it is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international
opinion against the juvenile death penalty." Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
had joined a 1989 Scalia opinion allowing the death penalty for juveniles.
Not surprisingly, Scalia's dissent in Roper last week took aim at Kennedy,
albeit without attacking him by name.
"The votes in today's case demonstrate that the offending of selected
lawyers' moral sentiments is not a predictable basis for law -- much less
a democratic one," he noted.
Invoking the motto that adorns the court's main entrance, Scalia, 68,
added: "What kind of Equal Justice under Law is it that -- without so much
as a 'Sorry about that' -- gives as the basis for sparing one person from
execution arguments explicitly rejected in refusing to spare another?"
But Justice John Paul Stevens, the only member of the court's current
liberal bloc who was on the bench in 1989, and who has now lived to see
his dissent in Stanford become the law of the land, fired back in defense
Stevens, 84, wrote that if Scalia's view of the Bill of Rights -- that its
meaning was fixed by the common-law standards of 1791 -- were to prevail,
there would be nothing unconstitutional about the execution of a
"[T]hat our understanding of the Constitution does change from time to
time has been settled since John Marshall breathed life into its text,"
(source: Washington Post)
Too Young to Die----The Supreme Court nixes the juvenile death penalty.
What that says about the Justices' thinking--and ours
In his Norman, Okla., law office, attorney Steven Presson stores 2 unusual
keepsakes. One is a leather pouch that holds the ashes of Sean Sellers,
the only person executed for a crime committed as a 16-year-old since the
death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976. Sellers-- who murdered
his mother, his stepfather and a store clerk -- was dispatched by lethal
injection in 1999, when he was 29. Presson's other memento is a plastic
box containing the ashes of Scott Hain, who, it now seems fair to say, was
the last juvenile offender to be executed in the U.S. Hain, sent to his
death in 2003 at the age of 32, was 17 when he and a friend committed a
grisly double murder.
Presson, who represented both boys, found it "very bittersweet" when the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that it was cruel and unusual to
sentence anyone to death for crimes committed before the age of 18. "I'm
happy for those on death row, but it came six years too late for Sean and
2 years too late for Scott," says Presson. "We've been arguing for decades
that kids don't have the same moral culpability that adults have, and
finally, finally, they listened."
It took 16 years for the high court to come around to Presson's point of
view, by a narrow 5-to-4 vote. In 1989 the court ruled 5 to 4 the other
way. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the 1989 decision, argued that
there was neither a "historical nor a modern societal consensus"
forbidding capital punishment for 16- or 17-year-olds (though the court
had found such a consensus for those under 16 a year earlier). Last week,
however, Scalia was on the short side of the decision.
What changed? The views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for one thing. While
Kennedy voted with Scalia in 1989, he wrote a very different majority
opinion this time around. Why did Kennedy change his mind? Legal tradition
invites him to do so. Since 1958 the court has applied a flexible standard
to interpreting the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual
punishments." What we mean by the phrase, wrote then Chief Justice Earl
Warren in Trop v. Dulles, depends on "the evolving standards of decency
that mark the progress of a maturing society."
How do you know that society no longer believes in sentencing a
17-year-old killer to death? Kennedy's argument mirrors his reasoning in a
2002 decision that outlawed death sentences for the mentally retarded. He
notes that since 1989 5 states have banned capital punishment for
juveniles, making the practice illegal in 30 states, including the 12 with
an outright ban on executions. Second, Kennedy cites scientific literature
showing that, like the retarded, adolescents lack mature judgment and a
full appreciation of the consequences of their actions. They are also more
vulnerable than adults to peer pressure. Third, Kennedy points out that
only 7 other countries have executed juvenile offenders since 1990, and
all 7 have repudiated the practice: "The United States now stands alone in
a world that has turned its face against the juvenile death penalty."
"This reference to international practices is a very big deal," says Cass
Sunstein, a constitutional scholar at the University of Chicago Law
School, and is part of a surprising new trend in Supreme Court thinking.
Overseas legal practices were also cited by the court in the 2002 ruling
on the mentally retarded and in a 2003 decision overturning a Texas law
banning gay sex. For his part, Scalia blasted his brethren for suggesting
that "American law should conform to the laws of the rest of the world"
and pointed out that the U.S. has unique legal traditions.
In the 12 states where juvenile offenders have been languishing, death
sentences will be lifted for 72 offenders. That brought dismay to many
victims' families. Martin Soto-Fong was 17 in 1992 when he and 2
accomplices robbed the El Grande Market in Tucson, Ariz., for $300 and
shot 3 workers. Richard Gee, who lost a brother and an uncle that day, is
not happy to see the murderer exit death row. "We had him at the gates of
hell," he says, "and he got kicked back."
(source: TIME Magazine)
America will have to care for its kids
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that America can no longer
kill its young, we can't take the easy way out anymore.
The court's decision to abolish capital punishment for juvenile offenders
means that we must find other ways to raise all of our children so that
none of our children become offenders who commit the worst of crimes.
It means we'll have to focus more on prevention and intervention instead
of punishment and execution, community nurturing instead of community
It means we cannot pretend that we're not all responsible for America's
Oh, you know what I'm talking about. We work hard and set our individual
rules and standards and make sure that our own children do well. Then we
send them out into a world where those children we've watched become
frustrated and enraged and out of control are waiting for them? And only
then do we become concerned?
73 lives saved
We know these children. They walk around like time bombs waiting to go
off, and we pay attention only enough to make sure they don't explode near
The problem with that logic is you can't always tell when a bomb will
explode. And children aren't born as bombs.
The majority of the court believes that executing juvenile offenders, even
if we wait for them to grow up before we kill them, is cruel and unusual
punishment, especially since social scientists say that children are too
immature to bear the same level of accountability as adults for their
actions. Every other country in the world grasped that idea long before
the United States did.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: "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
"Our determination," Kennedy added, "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."
The court's action saved at least 73 lives, including that of the
defendant in the case that prompted their ruling -- Christopher Simmons.
He was 17 when he kidnapped a woman from her house and threw her into a
river. He's now 29. But what might he have been if someone had gotten to
him before he was 17?
2.3 million kids to help
To consider how many children are arrested in America, let's just compare
it with the number of children who are doing something else.
Law enforcement agencies arrested an estimated 2.3 million juveniles in
2002, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Department's Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Juveniles accounted for 17 % of all arrests and 15 % of arrests for
violent crimes. The number of juvenile arrests for murder was 1,360, down
from 3,840 in 1993.
So, let's see -- that's 1,360 arrests for murder and 2.3 million arrests
What else did 2.3 million children do in 2002?
While about 2.3 million children were being arrested, about 2.4 million
were enrolling as first-time freshmen in the nation's colleges.
I wonder what might have happened if we'd paid attention to those future
juvenile offenders sooner?
(source: Column, Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press)
Gaze into alleged murderer's eyes, but can you see the evil?
"Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within."-- FROM A
SONG BY THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH
Did you search for murder in Dennis Rader's eyes?
I certainly did. He looked disheveled and disgruntled, as anyone might in
a mug shot. But did you see anything else? An unsettling gleam like the
one in Charles Manson's eyes? The remote coldness that lurks in Theodore
Kaczynski's? Did you see murder in Rader's eyes?
It's a judgment call, of course, but I didn't. He looked like Joe Blow's
cousin, a fat, balding white guy of late middle age, the kind of person
you'd pass a million times on the street without registering that he was
Hence, the shock that came when police in Wichita, Kan., announced on Feb.
26 that he is BTK - the initials stand for Bind, Torture, Kill - architect
of a murder spree that has claimed 10 lives and terrorized Kansans since
1974. Rader, we are told, was the very epitome of ordinary. He was a
59-year-old Boy Scout leader, a married father, council president of the
Lutheran Church he has attended for more than 25 years and a compliance
inspector for suburban Park City, where he was in charge of, among other
things, animal control.
And yet, if police are correct, it was all a fraud, his suburban
respectability a mask for a killer who hid in plain sight, taunting
authorities as he did his bloody work.
It's a profile that, I think, brings us face to face with what the writer
Hannah Arendt meant when she subtitled her treatise on the Holocaust "a
report on the banality of evil." Point being that we tend to think of evil
as something outside ourselves, something other than human. We regard it
as an exotic, terribly obvious thing that announces itself with devil's
horns and malicious leers, something you see coming a mile away.
But evil is more ordinary than that.
Think of all the perpetrators of the Holocaust whose names were not
Hitler, Himmler or Eichmann - ordinary shopkeepers, farmers and housewives
who simply averted their eyes, chanted the slogans, allowed themselves to
be swept up in fervor and in doing so went along with the extermination of
Think of the famous experiment Stanley Milgram conducted in 1963. He told
his subjects they were administering electrical shocks to an unseen victim
whose "sufferings" - screams and grunts - could be heard on an intercom.
Milgram found that most people would keep shocking the unseen person, even
administering what they were told were dangerous levels of voltage, if
instructed to do so by an individual in authority.
Think of Damien Stiffler. He was a 3-year-old in Blythe, Calif. Police say
that one day in 2000, his sister and a cousin, ages 6 and 5, got it in
their heads to kill him. One of them, they decided, would sit on his legs,
while the other would hold a pillow over his face. A willful murder,
carried out by children of kindergarten age.
Finally, think of Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison in Iraq where ordinary
American soldiers became torturers and brutalizers and no one thought to
say no. Or even remembered that this was wrong.
When we look into Rader's eyes for murder, then, I think what we're really
looking for is reassurance, something that says he is different from us
somehow, fundamentally foreign in some way to our ordinary lives. The
alternative is unsettling, suggesting as it does that humanity is a skin
we slip out of all too easily and civilization a conceit in which one
would be wise not to repose too much faith.
That alternative requires you to wonder what is the difference between him
and us, where is the turning point, the dividing line, the border a human
being must cross in order to become a monster. You look for answers in
Rader's eyes and all you see is Joe Blow staring back at you.
And you realize: It would be frightening if you saw murder there. But it's
even more frightening that you do not.
(source: Column, Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald)
The Supreme Court has spoken and the death penalty is on its way out. It
hasn't been banned as of yet, but the execution of the mentally retarded
and juveniles has been declared unconstitutional, further limiting the
scope of the death penalty. Last week, the Court's ruling in Simmons v.
Roper that 16 and 17-year-olds were exempt from the death penalty,
elicited a sigh of relief from the 70 plus murderers on death row in the
United States that were spared.
Although I disagree with this ruling, the major problem lies in the absurd
reasoning the majority used to justify their opinion. For one, almost
every case the Court has decided concerning the death penalty has
addressed the debate concerning "the evolving standards of decency that
mark the progress of a maturing society." That is, what the Court
considers to be "cruel and unusual punishment" is contingent upon other
facets of social change, or at least so say the more liberal justices on
the Court. The framers of the Constitution did not intend for us to simply
rewrite the Constitution based on some arbitrary and immeasurable
In writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated, "When a juvenile
commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the
most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his
potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity." The
proponents of this decision argue that juveniles have not reached a
necessary level of maturity, implying a lesser amount of responsibility,
and thus cannot be subject to "adult" punishments. If a juvenile who
commits a murder is not fully responsible for his actions, how can one
justify punishing him at all? If he didn't know any better and can't be
held responsible, it seems awfully cruel to sentence him to prison for any
length of time. As far as I'm concerned, when you commit adult crimes, you
lose your legal protection as a juvenile. Sixteen and 17-year-olds know
right from wrong, and any 16 or 17-year-old that hasn't gone on a
murdering spree is proof of that.
The media, in reporting this decision, never misses a moment to point out
that the United States is the last nation in the world to disavow the
death penalty for juveniles. Even countries like Iran and Cuba don't
execute, at least officially, their juvenile murderers. That's fine, but
irrelevant as far as the Court is concerned. At least one would think.
After all, Supreme Court Justices are supposed to interpret the U.S.
Constitution, not dabble in the domestic affairs of foreign countries.
With a lack of respect for the Constitution, Kennedy writes "...the Court
has referred to the laws of other countries and to international
authorities as instructive for its interpretation of the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment."
There is no reason the Court should ever be looking at another country to
help determine the constitutionality of anything. If the Court wants to
model our death penalty stance after nations like Iran, why stop there?
Let's revoke female drivers licenses and do away with our "innocent until
proven guilty" mantra.
Justice Scalia rightfully ripped into this ridiculous line of reasoning.
He pointed out the fact that the Court doesn't look at other countries for
interpretive help with the First Amendment, yet it sees no problem doing
so for the Eighth Amendment. After pointing out this inconsistency, he
then rejected the idea of using foreign countries as benchmarks
Whether or not one disagrees with the end result of the Court's ruling,
it's hard to justify the pathetic line of reasoning used to reach it.
Usually, an activist court at least pretends that its ruling is rooted in
the Constitution. If this line of reasoning prevails in other cases, the
days of true Constitutional interpretation may be coming to an end, and so
will the death penalty.
(source: Editorial, Elie Dvorin, Daily Illini)
Death sentence upheld for Oakland murderer----State Supreme Court rejects
appeal by man who killed 2 in 1987
The California Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the conviction and
death sentence of an Oakland double-murderer.
Cedric Harrison was convicted of the April 27, 1987, 1st-degree murders of
Betty Thompson, 34, and Leroy Robinson, 45, slain in an alley near A
Street. Prosecutors claimed Harrison shot the 2 because he'd given
Thompson $10 for some rock cocaine, but she gave him an actual pebble
An Alameda County Superior Court jury found him guilty in May 1992 but
deadlocked 10-2 on whether he should be executed or serve life in prison
without possibility of parole. A 2nd jury retried his penalty in 1993,
All death sentences are automatically appealed directly to the state
Supreme Court. In an opinion issued Thursday, the court rejected
Harrison's claims that he was denied a speedy trial, that a potential
juror was unfairly excluded because of her stated inability to vote in
favor of the death penalty, that the judge erred by admitting evidence of
another attempted murder and that the judge gave faulty jury instructions.
Associate Justices Carlos Moreno and Kathryn Werdegar concurred, but found
Deputy District Attorney William Tingle's biblical references in a closing
argument amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.
Tingle invoked the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelation,
described Harrison as "the disciple of Satan" and urged jurors to "take
the sword from (defendant) and cast it down and tell him that he was wrong
and may go no further."
These were impermissible, the 2 justices concluded, but not worthy of
reversing the conviction or sentence.
Harrison - who has prior convictions for rape, oral copulation with a
minor, kidnapping, assault with intent to commit a felony and robbery -
still can pursue a habeas corpus petition.
The direct appeal decided Thursday exists only within parameters set at
trial, seeking reversible error, while the habeas petition is a
reinvestigation of the whole case.
(source: Oakland Tribune)
More information about the DeathPenalty