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Death Penalty Related to Juveniles


Institutional Affiliation

Death Penalty in Juveniles

Roper v. Simmons was the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the usage of death penalties in the cases involving juvenile offenders. The case was ruled by the Supreme Court in 2005. It was taken to the court after Simmons (Respondent) was tried and convicted for murder. He committed the crime at the age of 17 years and was convicted after he turned 18 years, where he was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of murder.

The death penalty has remained to be one of the intensely divisive topics in the American society. Recently, a lot of cases, first involving defendants with mental retardation, and recently involving juveniles, in which by a five-to-four margin, the United States Supreme Court ruled that death penalties in both classes violate the prohibition of the constitution against unusual and cruel punishment which is guaranteed in the 8th Amendment. This paper will explore the Supreme Court’s recent decision in a juvenile case of Roper v. Simmons. Beside the general discussion of the decision made by the Supreme Court and the biting dissent led by Justice Scalia, the paper focuses on the reliance on foreign authorities under the court’s decision.

In 2005 decision called Roper v. Simmons, the United State’s Supreme Court ruled that sentencing individuals aged below 18 years at the occasion of the criminal activity violates the federal constitution guarantee against unusual and cruel punishments. The Roper opinion drew in the 2002 court decision which maintained that the sentencing of individuals with mental retardation is not constitutional. In the both cases, the reasoning of the court was that these special groups of offenders are less culpable compared to adult offenders without intellectual impairment of who committed the same offenses.

The constitutionality of executing individuals who are under the age of 18 years is an evaluated by the Supreme Court in various cases since the restoration of the death penalty in 1976. The age of offenders is an important consideration whe3n determining how the person should be punished? The court endorsed the proposition that less culpability would attach to the crime committed by the Juvenile than to a comparable offense by an adult.

Their less education, inexperience, and less intelligence makes a teenager less able when it comes to evaluating the consequences of their conduct while at the same time, they are much more apt to be motivated by peer pressure or mere emotion when compared to adults. The reason why the juveniles are not trusted with responsibilities and privileges as an adult would also explains why their irresponsibility conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.

According to the evolving standards of decency, courts should be concerned to the changes in social values over time and apply it in interpreting legal and ethics-related principles. Change in values implies a change in attitudes and beliefs which are expressed clearly. What remains unclear is how the courts should handle the conflicts in values or evaluating the importance f different aspects of opinions. Change in values may be identified intra. The question then lies to what value changes can count for the purpose to interpret the United States Constitution.

The dissenting views in Roper affirm to the actual debate on the extent in which the United States Supreme Court should consider changing values as matter of law. The evaluation of juvenile offenders considered for transfer to adult court entail considering factors like; the level of maturity sophistication, potential risk of dangerousness, and treatment amenability. Although Roper addressed the ultimate punishment imposition of death penalty within the aspect of juvenile moral blame worthiness for a murder offense, this paper considers the application of court’s reasoning in Roper to the issue of juvenile waiver.