Ways in Which Death Penalty Relates to Juvenile

Ways in Which Death Penalty Relates to Juvenile

Roper v. Simmons 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

Simmons at age of 17 planned and committed a capital murder. He was sentenced to death after turning 18 years. The court rejected his direct appeal and subsequent petitions for federal and state post-conviction relief. The Altikns v. Virginia 536 U.S 304 was later held by the court, that the Eighth Amendment which was State applicable through the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited the execution of mentally retarded persons. A new petition was then filed by Simmons for state post-conviction relief arguing that the reasoning of Alkins established that the execution of juveniles less than 18 years when committing crime was prohibited by the constitution (NPR, 2005). Simmons’ death was set aside by the Missouri Supreme Court in favor of life imprisonment without release eligibility. 

In the petition submitted, NPR (2005) explains that Simmons was very susceptible, very impulsive, and very immature to being influenced or manipulated. According to the testimonies of his background, his home environment was difficult, he performed poorly in school and had dramatic behavioral changes. For a long period, Simmons was always absent from home, spending time on drugs and alcohol with his peers. These were matters that were raised by Simmons’ post-conviction counsel which directed the factors that may have influenced his behaviors. 

Capital Punishment in Context ( n.d.) explains that the imposition of death penalty is prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments on offenders who were below 18years when committing their crimes. The “evolving standards of decency” in interpreting the eighth amendment, obligated the court to provide a national consensus against juveniles’ death penalty.  Its conclusion was based with Atkins the “objective indicia of consensus”- consistency in the trend towards practice abolitions, the infrequency of using death penalty even where it remains on books, and the rejection of the death penalty of juveniles in the majority of states- gives sufficient evidence that juveniles are viewed by the society as, “categorically less culpable than the average criminal.”

According to Capital Punishment in Context ( n.d.), there are three general differences between adults and juveniles below 18 years that states that juvenile offender should not be classified amongst worst offenders. One difference is that in comparison to adults, juveniles are less reprehensible morally, due to their immature and irresponsible behaviors. The other difference is the juveniles’ vulnerabilities and comparative lack of control, which gives them higher claim of forgiveness due to failure of escaping negative environmental influences. Lastly, is their reality in struggling with defining their identity, makes it less supportable to conclude that, when they commit heinous crimes, it is an evidence of a character that is irreversibly depraved.

Fair Sentencing of Youth (2017) explains that although the court does not overlook or deny the brutal crimes committed by juveniles, it disagrees with the contention of the petitioners that, considering the insistence of the court on individualized capital sentencing considerations, it is unnecessary and arbitrary to adopt a categorical rule excluding death penalty imposition on an offender below 18 years. In the Roper v. Simmons, landmark decision, issued on March 1, 2005, it was ruled 5-4 by the United States Supreme Court that imposing a death penalty for a person below 18 years was unconstitutional. According to the Court, the development of adolescent, both body and brain are not fully developed. 

Therefore, unlike the adults, Fair Sentencing of Youth (2017) explains that juveniles do not have adults’ levels of risk assessment, judgement, and consequence of their action. The Court noted further that youths below 18 years are highly susceptible to peer pressure unlike adults and their power of escaping harmful environment is low. Also, due to their developmental stage, juveniles have greater potential of rehabilitation. The imposition of death penalty on juveniles violates international human rights laws, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child


Capital Punishment in Context,. Roper v. Simmons 543 U.S. 551 (2005). Capital Punishment In Context. Retrieved from http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/resources/casesummaries/roper

Fair Sentencing of Youth,. (2017). Roper v. Simmons (2005). The Campaign For Fair Sentencing Of Youth. Retrieved from http://fairsentencingofyouth.org/roper-v-simmons-2005/

NPR,. (2005). Ropper v.Simmons. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/documents/2005/mar/scotus_juvenile.pdf

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