Joe P Grady April 16, 2006 T 6-8:50 Death Penalty for Juveniles The first execution of a juvenile offender took place in 1642 with the execution of Thomas Graunger in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. In the following 360 years since that time, a total of approximately 365 juveniles have been executed for crimes they have convicted of. This constituted 1.8% of near 20,000 confirmed American executions since 1608 (Adelman, 2005). Twenty-two of these executions for juvenile crimes have been imposed since the reinstatement of the capital punishment in 1976. Of the 22 recent executions of juvenile offenders they make up about 2% of the total executions since 1976. In March 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that the death penalty for those who had committed crimes under 18 years old was cruel and unusual punishment and hence barred by the Constitution (Adelman, 2005). I believe the Supreme Court should reinstate the death penalty for juveniles because juvenile murders tend to be more brutal and violent and juvenile crimes are far worse in the United States compared to other industrialized countries. In Missouri in 1993, Christopher Simmons age 17 made a plan to murder Shirley Crook. He brought his two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plan. The plan was to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering the victim’s home and tying up a victim then tossing the victim off of a bridge. The three met in the middle of the night to put the plan into action but Tessmer dropped out of the terrible plan. Simmons and Benjamin then broke into Shirley Crook's home, bound her by her hands and covered her eyes and robbed her of 7 dollars, then they drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge, killing her (Adelman, 2005). When the case went to trial the prosecution had enough evidence to convict Simmons of this terrible murder. The jury imposed a death sentence on Simmons. His case was appealed, citing ineffective trial support. His age along with his history of a troubled background were brought up as issues for this appeal. The court upheld the jury's death sentence (Adelman, 2005). In Thompson v. Oklahoma in 1988, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits executions of juvenile offenders under the age of 15 and younger at the time of their crimes (Williams, 2005). One year later in Stanford v. Kentucky in 1989, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at the ages of 16 or 17 regardless of state statutory provisions (Williams, 2005). Then in 2003 when the ruling of Atkins v. Virginia over turned the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders, Simmons’ lawyers made another appeal to the state of Missouri. It was decided that there was a national consensus against the execution of minors and Simmons was given life in prison without the possibility of parole (Williams, 2005). The state appealed the decision and the United State Supreme Court heard the case. On October 13, 2004 they case was heard and the prosecution wanted to see if it was constitutional to use capital punishment for crimes committed while the offenders were considered juveniles. Questions of the rights of the eighth amendment were brought up that protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment. Sociological research suggests that juveniles lack maturity and sense of responsibility, when they are compared to adults. The verdict came on March 1, 2005, by a vote of 5-4; the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid the execution of juvenile offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed (Williams, 2005). Justice Kennedy stated, “When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity,” (Williams, 2005). Shirley Crook was an innocent housewife who was brutally murdered by Christopher Simmons and he will never get the justice he deserves for the crime he committed due to his age (Adelman, 2005). Currently 38 of the 50 states have jurisdictions that allow the use of capital punishment. Of those 38 states, New York, Connecticut and North Carolina have set the age in which you will face trial as an adult at the age of 16, and ten other states have set their age to 17 while the remaining 37 states are set at the age of 18. The most recent execution of a juvenile offender was in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003. In the past four years the only countries to execute a juvenile offender have been, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Pakistan and the United States (Adelman, 2005). Looking at these countries that have executed juveniles, the United States in the only international super power on this list and it is because we have such a high rate of juvenile delinquency in our country. The United Nations convention states that neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age. The United States is the only country in the United Nations that doesn’t follow these general principles (Adelman, 2005). By not following the UN it shows our country doesn’t have a serious problem with juvenile delinquency and we need to impose more harsh punishments to set an example of juveniles that don’t follow our laws. By abolishing the death penalty for minors we have really taken the serious threat out of why committing terrible crimes in not acceptable in our country. Texas is the leading state for execution of juvenile offenders. Of the 22 juveniles who have been executed since 1976, Texas accounted for 13 of them. At the time of the United States declaring it unconstitutional for the use of capital punishment on juveniles there were 72 juveniles on death row waiting to be executed (Hansen, 2005). Texas again, accounted for most of the juveniles on death row; they had 29 of the 72 that were waiting to be put to death (Williams, 2005). Some of the juveniles that were on death row had been there for as little as four months and as long as over twenty years when the Supreme Court ruled against capital punishment for juveniles. Many of the juvenile offenders on death row were very violent offenders. Mark Anthony Duke who was a white male, age 16 at the time of his crime was convicted of the murder of his father, and a white female age 29, and a white female age 7, and a white female age 6 in Pelham, Alabama. He was sentenced to die, but with the new ruling of the Supreme Court he will spend the rest of his life in jail and escape what he deserved for the crime in which he committed (Williams, 2005). Stephen Virgil McGilberry, an American Indian male age 16 at the time of his crime received four death sentences for murders of his mother, his stepfather, his stepsister and his stepsister's son, who was three years old in St. Martin, Mississippi and he too will not receive what he deserves as a punishment for the crimes in which he committed. By these two juveniles not receiving capital punishment for the terrible crimes they committed shows a flaw in the American Justice System. These two example of offenders who will never been executed for the crimes they committed show that juvenile murders are committing very brutal murders (Hansen, 2005). Many people who support the decision to not use capital punishment against juvenile offenders will argue that a juveniles mind is not that of a fully matured adult and therefore not face the same consequences for their actions as adults. There is a line that anyone knows between what is right and what is wrong in our society and murder is something that everyone knows is illegal and if convicted punishable by death. It is terrible to think that maybe people in this world don’t believe that justice should be served for murders that juveniles commit and they should just spend the rest of there lives in jail. If they are going to make a decision based weather or not someone receives the death penalty based on the age they should just abolish the death penalty as a whole because it is not fair that juveniles get special treatment enough though they have been convicted of murder. I would not want to be the person who had to tell Shirley Crooks family that Christopher Simmons will not be executed anymore because he was a minor when he committed the crime therefore making him exempt from capital punishment.
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