scale.jpg

The Death Penalty for Juveniles?

Is it just me or is the concept of the death penalty for a child, say 8 years old, horrifying? Good news though! On March 1, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibited the use of the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the crime (Death Penalty Information Center, 2014). However, this has not always been the case. The Death Penalty Information Center provides documentation dating as far back as year 1608, asserting that juveniles as young as 12 years of age were sentenced to death. The juvenile justice system, in the United States, was established in 1899. Previous to juvenile reformation in the criminal court system, youths were charged, tried and prosecuted as adults. Believe it or not, more youths were executed in the past 400 years than middle aged men. Recognizing that juveniles need specialized processing is one of the most progressive changes the United States has ever made regarding the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, other countries do not have such liberal views on juvenile crime. Countries including Yemen, Pakistan, and Iran have executed youths as young as 13, and even as recent as 2007 (Death Penalty Information Center, 2014). Although many countries are working towards establishing laws to protect juveniles from execution, human error and delay in processing is causing additional conflicts for youths in the system. As a result, youths continue to be executed in some regions. 
In an attempt to provide options for prosecutors who face repeat or violent offenders, the court established guidelines to move youths to adult court. Juveniles charged with felony crimes such as first degree murder, manslaughter, and aggravated assault can be transferred to the adult criminal court. In Idaho, youths 14 years of age can be transferred; although the age in which juveniles can be tried as an adult varies by state. So, the question then becomes whether the youth can and should be rehabilitated or should they face life imprisonment. Are there circumstances such as childhood abuse, neglect, substance abuse (as well as in utero) or even financial opportunities that would make a difference? Many of these problems are exacerbated by issues related to mental illness and that many states’ ruled to abolish the insanity plea. Mental Illness is a complicated web and deserves special attention. That…is for another day.

Death Penalty Information Center. (2014). Execution of Juveniles in the U.S. and other Countries. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/execution-juveniles-us-and-…
Death Penalty Information Center. (2014). U.S. Supreme Court: Roper v. Simmons, No. 03-633. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/u-s-supreme-court-roper-v-s…