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Juveniles And The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper

Children Doing Crimes That End up In The Chamber

It was a warm summer evening in a small town in the state of Missouri. John Freshman, a white male gang member fourteen years of age, drives down a street that he knows his rival gang members are usually standing along. John pulls his 9 MM. automatic pistol out from underneath his seat and points it at the group of rival gang members. John opens fire and unloads his weapon at anybody standing along the street. As John pulls away from the area, he almost gets into an accident with a parked vehicle and drops his weapon. When John regains control of the vehicle he shouts “ blood killer coming down the road.” When the ambulance and police arrive, they find five people dead two children and one grand mother in the house, and two gang members in the street dead. The police find the weapon and test for fingerprints. They come back to John Freshman AKA “Lone G.” John has been in juvenile hall nine times and has been on probation or in custody for the past five years. John is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The previous statement is not real but it portrays the life of our country. This statement can be read and seen all over the country in newspapers and watched on the five o’clock news. Was John’s sentencing appropriate? Should have John been sentenced to the death penalty? Is John old enough to be put to death? This paper will try to answer these questions.


Juvenile – A young Person, one below the legally established age of adulthood. A person under the age of eighteen when the crime was committed.

Death Penalty- Capital punishment, sentenced to death.

What age is too young for the death penalty? A better question is what age is it too young to die for the murder of another human person. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile under the age of sixteen should not be sentenced to death because they are too young. This was upheld in the case of Thompson V. Oklahoma (487 U.S. 815,1988). Since juveniles are beginning to get more violent in their acts, should the age be lowered? For instance, the previous scenario states that it was a fourteen year old doing the crime. What if it was a twelve year old? When does a juvenile have to pay fully for the crime he or she committed? If you look at the juvenile criminal statistics today and compare them to twenty years ago, we see a dramatic decrease in violent crime and increase use of death penalty sentences. For example, Proffessor Victor Strieb From Claude W. Petit College of Law (Death Penalty for Juveniles) stated juveniles are one to two percent of all people on death row in the United States, although they commit more than fifty percent of all the murders in the United States. As we look at the history of juveniles sentenced to death, we see that the rate has been steady and has fluctuated by little more than five percent.

The History of the death penalty for juveniles began around 1642 with the execution of Thomas Graunger. Thomas Graunger was executed in Plymouth Colony Massachusetts for a crime he committed when he was sixteen years old. He became the first recorded juvenile in what was to become the United States to be executed for an offense committed under the age of eighteen. There were 343 executions of juveniles before the Supreme Court repelled the death penalty. “There have been 13 executions of convicted juveniles since the beginning of the new era. Just like adults, the state of Texas is the leader of juvenile executed with seven. There has been seven Caucasians, five African Americans and one Latino executed. Twelve of those executed were seventeen when they did the crime.” (Strieb, Juveniles on death row) Before June 30, 1988, thirty people were on death row for crimes committed while under the age of eighteen. As of June 1999, there are seventy people on death row for crimes they committed when they were juveniles. About one in fifty of the more than thirty four hundred individuals on death row in the United States were convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of eighteen (Amnesty Int.). Three fourths of the seventy were seventeen when they did the crime. This means that most of these convicted juveniles were still suppose to be in high school and were old enough to drive.

What makes a juvenile old enough to be put to death for his actions? Most juveniles in the United States can drive at the age of sixteen. They can also legally work and attend school. Therefore, what keeps the juvenile from assuming the responsibilities for his actions? For Steve Roach, it means he was seventeen and he admits his wrong doing but says he’s a different person now since he’s been sentenced to death row (Glasser 26). The debate has two sides: one that says the death penalty is wrong for this juvenile because he was misguided, lived in a bad neighborhood and didn’t have a daddy around when he was growing up. For some people this is a good enough reason to keep this juvenile from meeting his maker. For the other side of the debate they say he was old enough to do the crime, then he was old enough to do the punishment. This side of the debate states that it was the convicted juveniles choice to shot the seventy year old grand mother in the chest with a shotgun.

The first side of the debate, opponents of the death penalty, feels that it is cruel and unusual punishment (Amnesty Int. 1). They also think it does not deter anybody from doing crimes. It is barbaric and uncivilized. The age of the juveniles also is used in their argument to portray a helpless little boy or girl that went astray. Opponents also use the mentality of the individual as a reason not to sentence a juvenile to death (Feld 94). For example, opponents say that if the mental capacity of a seventeen-year-old is actually the age of a ten-year-old then he should not be sentenced to death.

The supporters of the death penalty think that the death penalty is used for good reason. One of those reasons is to deter other juveniles from trying to do the same crime. Another reason is the punishment fits the crime. In addition the death penalty is not cruel because the individual laying on the gurney waiting for the lethal injection feels nothing do to sedatives and painkillers. Another reason is that the world and the United States have been executing individuals since the beginning of time.

Another approach to debating the death penalty issue and the lowering of the age limit is buy using mental capacity test. For example, in the case of Michael Dominguez, convicted in 1994 for the murder of his next door neighbor and her four-year-old son in their home in March 1993 (Landau). The court took in account Michael Domingues was in his right mind and was mentally capable of doing such a horrible crime as double murder. The standard for the judicial system to follow is based on the individual’s mental age. For example, a five year old does not know or understand the weapon in his hand could fire and kill someone but a four teen year old knows that it can.

A seventeen – year – old, Douglas Christopher was sentenced to death in Virginia, because he shot and killed his girlfriends (Jessica Wiseman’s) parents. Wiseman’s parents forbade them to have any personal relations and that was the reason that both of them thought of killing the parents. Douglas Christopher was sentenced to death and Jessica was sentenced to juvenile detention. They both should have been sentenced to death because they both knew what they were doing and the consequences of their actions.

As the rate of juvenile murderers increase, the number of juveniles on death row should rise also. As the age for juveniles that can be sentenced to death been set too high for today’ times. Most people in the bigger cities are starting to think it should be lowered to an age that can equip the judges with some type of sentencing that would deter all people, including juveniles. Most juveniles think they can get away with most things because they are juveniles but where are the line drawn for juveniles. The best way to deter juveniles from committing murder and other horrible crimes is to make sure that a juvenile can’t get away with killing a person by serving only a few years in a juvenile detention center.


Amherst, Sherry Dicks Ed. Young Blood: juvenile justice and the death penalty: New York, N.Y. C. 1995.

Amnesty Int.: Http://www.web.amnesty.org 10/30/00.

Feld Barry. Bad Kids: Race and the transformation of the juvenile court: Oxford University, New York, C 1999.

Glasser, Paul. Families in crisis, New York , C 1970.

Hale Robert L. Lewingston, A review of juvenile Executions in America, , New York, New York. C.1997.

Landau, Alisha. Teens and the death Penalty: Hillside, N.J. C.1992.

Point / Counterpoint: Correctional Issues. Lanham, Md. C. 1998.

Schooler, Mike. The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Delusional Teen Killer” Pg 1 08/22/00.

Streib, Victor. Death Penalty for Juveniles: Bloomington, Indiana. C. 1987.

Streib, Victor. Juveniles and the death penalty {videorecording}: Princeton, N.J. C. 1989.

Streib, Victor. Juveniles on Death Row: Amherst N.Y. C. 1995.

University of Alaska, Anchorage: Http:// www.uaa.alaska.edu 11/12/00.

Children Doing Crimes

That End Up In

The Chamber

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