Juvenile Death Penalty Essay

3637 words - 15 pages

A 16 year old boy is at the peak of their adolescent life, learning and discovering about puberty, maturity, right and wrong and future life goals. On the other hand, a man of 25 has matured, lived long enough to have made both good and bad judgments and has already been in the process of achieving those life goals they once thought of as a teenager. In a given situation, is it ethical to hold these two age groups, with mentalities that are worlds apart, to the same standards and punishments in the justice system? Until Roper v. Simmons in 2005, the justice system did just that, treat the actions of 16 year old with the same consequences as if they had been committed by an adult. In Roper v. Simmons the United States Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile under the age of 18 to the death penalty. Before, Roper v. Simmons, in Thompson v. Oklahoma it had been decided that only those under the age of 16 could not be considered for the death penalty. Were these decisions correct? If an adolescent can commit such a heinous crime as homicide should they not also be able then to handle the consequences? The other side of the argument against the juvenile death penalty states that juveniles do not have the same reasoning skills as an adult and therefore cannot be held to same criminal blameworthiness.

Facts will show that the United States Supreme Court was correct in their decision to ban the death penalty for all those under the age of eighteen. Recent brain imaging scans have shown that an adolescent’s brain is not fully developed until late in adolescence causing them to be immature, have diminished decision making capacity and underdeveloped reasoning and thinking skills (Aronson, 2007); qualities which most adults possess. Furthermore psychiatric evaluation on minor death row inmates has found that many come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect and have received inadequate treatment. Is it then ethical to sentence a person with undeveloped reasoning and thinking skills to the death penalty if they cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their actions? If adolescents are being considered to have diminished reasoning and thinking skills, how then do they compare the mentally ill? Do the same standards apply? If so, then the case of Atkins v. Virginia, in which it was declared by the U.S. Supreme Court that the mentally handicapped would not be sentenced to the death penalty, would be essential to the cause opposing juvenile death penalty. It is not denied that these juveniles have committed horrendous crimes and should be held accountable for their actions, but certain mitigating circumstances negate the need for a death penalty.
In the United Sates, the first juvenile death penalty recorded occurred in 1642 of a minor under the age of 18 and the youngest person ever given the death penalty was ten-year old James Arcene in 1885 for robbery and murder (Strater, 1994-1995). By 1994 there were only 9 states, among...

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