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Juveniles And Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper

One of the most controversial issues in the rights of juveniles today is addressed in the question, “Should the death penalty be applied to juveniles”? For nearly a century the juvenile courts have existed to shield the majority of juvenile offenders from the full weight of criminal law and to protect their entitled “special rights and immunities.” In the case of kent vs. United states in 1996, Justice Fortas stated some of these “special rights” which include; Protection from publicity, confinement only to twenty-one years of age, no confinement with adults, and protection against the consequences of adult conviction such as the loss of civil rights, the use of adjudication against him in subsequent proceedings and disqualification of public employment (Kent vs. US 1966:1055). These ” special rights and immunities ” exist so that the justice courts can provide measures of guidance and rehabilitation for the child along with protection for society. However, there are some youths who are extremely dangerous and do not respond to attempts to reform themselves. The question is, should established mechanisms for transferring or waiving juvenile court jurisdiction in these exceptional cases take away these “special rights” and subject the youth to the full range of penalties for criminal behavior including, in some jurisdictions, execution (Thomson vs. State, 1986:784) ? Should These juveniles who perform the same malicious acts as some adult capital offenders be subject to the harshness of the criminal courts and the finality of the death penalty ? This paper will discuss a history of capital punishment for juveniles in the United States, methods of transferring juvenile cases to criminal courts, and also my position on the subject and justice of justice of juveniles and the death penalty.

The constitutionality of the juvenile death penalty reached a settlement in 1988 in the case of Thompson v. Oklahoma when four Supreme Court Justices reached the conclusion that: persons under sixteen years of age cannot be sentenced to death (Thompson v. Oklahoma, 1988). Justice Stevens, Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun considered these important issues as they were deliberating on the case: (1) Does a national consensus forbidding executions of juveniles exist?; (2) the extent to which the laws of other Western European nations prohibit or permit the execution of juveniles, and the opinions of ” respected professional organizations;” (3) the degree to which the juveniles should be held responsible for their actions; (4) Whether the execution of juveniles contributed to the retributive or deterrent goals of punishment; and (5) Whether the small number of juveniles executed represents the “waton and freakish” application of the death penalty as condemned by Justice Stewart in Furman V. Georgia (Furman v. Georgia, 1972: 2763, Thompson v. Oklahoma, 1988: 487 U.S. 815). Following the decision, thirty eight states and the federal government created statutes authorizing the death penalty for certain forms of murder and other capital offenses ( Streib 1 of 2). Thompson v. Oklahoma held that no state within the minimum age line within its death penalty can go below the age of sixteen. Presently, fifteen states have chosen the min age of eighteen, four states have chosen the minimum age of seventeen (including Georgia), And twenty states have chosen the minimum age of sixteen (Streib 1 of 2).

Before 1988, there was an uncertainty as to how the government should handle the juveniles and their capital crimes. There was one consensus among Justices and that was that the constitution and the Eighth Amendment did not outlaw juveniles receiving the death penalty. In furman v. Georgia (1972: 2823) justice powell wrote: ” … The unswerving position that the court has taken in opinions spanning the last hundred years. On Virtually every occasion that any opinion has touched on the question . . . it has been asserted affirmatively, or tacitly assumed, that the Constitution does not prohibit the penalty.” The Constitution, which has its roots in English Common Law, is not in violation in the case of juvenile death penalties. Before the minimum age of 16 statutes, English Common law from the 16th Century had a direct influence on the Constitution. This common law carried over to American statutes and established the presumption that no one under the age of seven had the mental capacity to commit crimes, therefore, they had no concept of mens rea or evil intent (Hale 23). In English Common L, Criminal intent had to be proven in cases concerning offenders of ages seven to fourteen. This carried over to become an American standard (hale 23). Only in cases of youth ages fourteen and over was it possible to concede that they had the mental capacity to perform a crime with mens rea (Samaha 1993:295). After adopting these common laws, individual states made specific changes within the law. For example, some states excluded juvenile court from the proceedings when crimes were severe (hale 23). These exclusions lead to my next subject on the methods of transferring juvenile cases to criminal courts and in turn, makes it possible to sentence violent juvenile offenders the death penalty.

The idea of whether or not the death penalty should apply to juvenile violent offenders is only possible through the transfer of juveniles out of the juvenile court and into the adult criminal court. Only then can a guilty violent youth be punished to the full extent. As the number of certified or transferred cases increases, the public recognition that juveniles can and do commit serious felonies also increases (Samaha 1993: 295). Essentially, youths who are transferred to criminal court are not so much helped out of the juvenile justice system, as thrown out of it (Dorn and Gewerth, 306). There are three basic types of transportation methods. The first one to be discussed is also the most common. This method is judicial waiver. Recently, states have begun to integrate the age of criminal responsibility with jurisdiction of juvenile courts, for example, some states grant jurisdiction to a particular age, usually between fifteen and sixteen while from ages sixteen to eighteen (sometimes twenty-one) juvenile judges can transfer or certify these cases to the adult criminal courts (Samah 1993: 295). An example of jurisdictional waiver in which the U.S. Supreme Courts imposed strict guidelines of judicial waive decisions for judges was Kent v. United States in 1966. In this landmark case, the offender was charged with an offense which would amount to a felony in the case of an adult, however, transfer to an adult criminal court requires complete investigation. In this case, the juvenile court judge held no hearing, nor did he confer with the petitioner. The trial was sent to the criminal court and the child was convicted and sentenced to thirty to ninety years in prison (Don and Gewerth, 310-311). The second transfer method is known as legislative waiver. These waivers work by excluding juveniles charged with certain crimes from the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts. This defines certain categories of young offenders “defined out” of the juveniles courts and they are statutorily declared adults (Dorn and Gewerth, 323). The Constitution is an enduring document which is responsible for upholding important government statutes like judiciary and legislative waivers. The Constitution makes it possible to punish violent juvenile offenders who do not respond to rehabilitation efforts. A case in which legislative waiver was implemented was United States v. Bland in 1972. The child was charged with armed robbery, one of the legislative classifications which calls for transfer to adult criminal courts (Dorn and Gewerth, 324). Finally, There is the method of prosecutorial waiver. This waiver places the responsibility of transfer in the hands of the prosecutor. This can happen by the prosecutor simply bypassing the juvenile court and filing the case directly with the criminal court (Dorn and gewerth, 346). A significant case that is an example of prosecutorial waiver was People v. Thorpe in 1982. The sixteen year old defendant was convicted of three capitol crimes and the prosecutor waived in the “best interest of the juvenile” him to the side of the criminal courts (Dorn and Gewerth, 347-348). It is evident that these method of transferring make it possible to punish juveniles for their crimes.

The question of juveniles and the death penalty is a difficult one for myself and many other citizens of the United States. I feel that the death penalty is, as mentioned before, “wanton and freakish.” The rate at which the death penalty is carried out as well as the inconsistency with sentencing makes it hardly a deterrent. I believe as also reflected in many articles of this subject that kids are simply not deterred by any type of juvenile justice, the feelings are due reporting of over crowded facilities and a lack of harsh punishment for juveniles. If the penalty were carried out as it should be, the cost of time in prison as well as costly appeals would be eliminated. I believe that there should be some type of limit on the number of appeals submitted by an offender, This would both save money as well as save wasted money and time. The age Juveniles offenders and the death penalty make judgements for youths committing violent capital crimes extremely difficult and controversial. Inconsistency conveys a feeling of injustice. As one juvenile is sentenced and put to death, then their sentence is reversed on technicalities make me question the justice and success of this form of punishment. While age was considered a mitigating factor in the trial of a sixteen year old , Monty Lee Eddings, and his sentence was eventually reversed by a Jury 5-3 in 1982, the sentencing in the trial of Roach v. Martin, which involved a mentally retarded seventeen year old defendant, was the death penalty. In the trial of Thompson v. Oklahoma, fifteen year old Thompson had his sentence reversed after claiming cruel and unusual punishment with emphasis on the 8th Amendment, While in the case of Prejean v. Blackburn in 1984, a seventeen year old was given the death penalty and put to death for the same crime. These inconsistencies challenge the justice of the American Judiciary System and also the strength of the Constitution. The pessimistic view of whether or not the death penalty is the most effective form of deterrent from a life of crime is also a difficult subject. More and more citizens in the United States are beginning to support life in prison without parole sentences as opposed to the death penalty (dpic 1 of 2). Many people feel that juveniles should not be tried as adults, that this constitutes cruel and unfair judgement (long,79). I sincerely feel that if the death penalty is going to be implemented in the juvenile justice system than it has to become more efficient, that is, shorter time on death row for prisoners sentenced to capital punishment, limitations on costly appeals which extend the life of the prisoner, sometimes for decades, and consistency in sentencing of juveniles being tried for capital crimes, then the future of the punishment of these crimes will be life in prison without parole. With overcrowding and increasing costs to housing these juvenile offenders, this is not a sufficient alternative to capital punishment. Reform of the death penalty would mean a better solution and a speedy punishment for crimes committed which deserve this sentence. Some offenders don’t deserve to have a lesser sentence that the crime committed, including juvenile violent offenders.

In conclusion, this report has discussed some of the history of the question regarding juveniles and the death penalty as well as a review of the Constitution and its importance concerning the subject. The methods of transferring a juvenile from the juvenile court to the criminal courts are what make this controversial problem possible, once a juvenile is placed in the hands of the criminal courts, they are subject to all of the punishments that an adult offender would encounter, including capital punishments. The future of our court system and the punishment of juveniles for violent capital crimes depends on the reform of the death penalty with emphasis on consistency and justice. I feel that if the system continues on the path that it is on, the concept of capital punishment for all ages of offenders will not last. Further more, I don’t believe that capital punishment will ever be effectively and consistently used in clarified capital offense cases, due to a number of inconsistencies in the United States Courts system.

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