Earlier this year the Supreme Court of the United States handed down arguably one their most important, yet controversial decisions regarding Juvenile law. In the case Roper v Simmons (2005), a narrow 5-4 decision, overturned the United States practice of allowing capital punishment for Juvenile offenders. Mitigating factors must be considered when examining the decision of the Supreme Court whenever they overturn previous courts decisions. This issue becomes more complex in the Juvenile System because of the relative infancy of this aspect of the American Judicial system.
In addition to analyzing the history of the Juvenile Justice system, one must take into account previous case law that dealt with this specific issue. While capital punishment for Juveniles has been permitted in America as far back as 1642, the courts did not rule on this issue until the mid-late sass’s. Furthermore, as recent as 1989, the Supreme Court upheld states rights to impose capital punishment against persons under the age of eighteen. What changed in about a fifteen year time period for the highest court in the land to dramatically change their stance on such an important issue?
This paper will examine the history of the Juvenile Court system and its intended purposes, the history of capital punishment being used against minors, court decisions both in limiting capital punishment for youthful offenders, as well as upholding states rights to sentence Juveniles to death. Most importantly, we will analyze possible factors that contributed to the decision of Roper v Simmons such as the international community’s opposition of the Juvenile death penalty and the majority consensus of the American public in outlawing this practice.
Part I: History of the Juvenile Justice System The Juvenile Justice system came about as a direct consequence of the American Industrial Revolution . The change from an agricultural society to arbitration decreased the size of the family. The role of the extended family decreased and women’s roles in the primary family became more domesticated. Accompanying arbitration, the Progressive movement gave way to new social science disciplines. Progressive theorists developed a view of new stages in childhood development such as adolescent.
No longer were children seen as “miniature adults” but as innocent beings that needed to be rehabilitated, rather Han punished for criminal behavior. The doctrine of parents patria gave the court the ability to intervene in the lives of delinquent children for the purpose of saving History and Future of the Juvenile Justice System By helpmate In 1899, Illinois passed the Juvenile Court Act, the fist of its kind to setup a separate legal entity for dealing with Juvenile behavior. The Illinois system would become the model for almost every state to set up a similar Juvenile court infrastructure.
The most important notion in this new Juvenile system was the rehabilitative nature of these proceedings. Youths were no longer punitively responsible for their actions, but rather coerced into deviant behavior by a society who failed them. The rehabilitative nature of this system did not distinguish between criminal and non- criminal activities. As a consequence, the state was able to intervene in any type of situation in which they perceived the well-being of the child to be in danger.
Shortly after the inception of the original Juvenile court, the first constitutional challenge to this new Jurisdiction took place. In the case, Commonwealth v Fisher 213 Pa. 48, 62 A. 198 (Pa 1905), the Supreme Court ruled that because the new system in palliative in nature and not criminal, constitutionally protected rights are not extended to minors because they are not being charged with a crime. Therefore, the state courts are acting in their rights to deprive a child of liberties in order to protect and save a child from the ills of society.
For the better part of the early half of the 20th century, the rehabilitative nature of the Juvenile court was the mainstream in mostly all Jurisdictions. Judges were empowered with enormous discretion on the amiable treatments for Juvenile offenders. Placement in reformatories and training schools was one of the most ideal used “treatments” prescribed by Judges. In theory, these places were supposed to provide an environment were delinquent children could flourish and be rehabilitated to one day re-enter and become an esteemed member of society. However, these facilities usually provided inadequate care to minors.
With limited court supervision of the facilities children were sent to, common problems of neglect, abuse, and lack of rehabilitative programs were more the standard in these facilities. In the sass’s the traditional standards of the Juvenile Justice system were challenged by a series of court decisions. One of the most notable was In Re Gaul 387 U. S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. DEED. D 527 (1967). The case challenged the states rights to deprive a child of liberty for what could be a matter of years, without affording the child a right to due process.
In a decision that would now limit a Judge’s arbitrary discretion in assigning rehabilitative guidelines, Justice Format wrote for the majority, “it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and the exercise of care implied in the phrase “due process. ” Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not Justify a kangaroo court”. Besides the obvious effect of this decision overturning Commonwealth v Fisher, this case laid the groundwork for the removal of the substantive differences between the criminal and Juvenile court systems.
By requiring procedural safeguards to the the case, Lanes v State 767 S. W. D 789 (Tex. Ct. Crime. App. 1989), the court argued that while the rehabilitative nature of the Juvenile system is admirable, the system has failed as a whole. The court blames society as a whole for its failures and a new methodology must prevail which incorporates both the Juvenile and criminal elements. The asses marked a transitional period for the Juvenile Justice system. Although rehabilitation of Juvenile offenders was still an important goal, Juvenile Justice policy began to emphasize punishment and public safety.
With the rise of violent Juvenile crime in this decade, especially through the media’s coverage of gang violence, public outcry towards punishing Juveniles rather than rehabilitating became more prevalent. Predictably, elected official seized this opportunity to capitalize on the issue. Many states passed legislation during this period to make it easier to try venires as adults through Judicial waiver. Other laws called for stricter sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders, and minimum sentences for certain crimes.
The state of Washington is one Jurisdiction that phased out the rehabilitative nature of the Juvenile system and instead replaced it with one which mirrors the adult criminal system. In 1977, Washington first overhauled their original Juvenile Justice system from the sass’s. The goal of the change was to hold Juveniles more accountable for their actions a “point system” was used to determine sentencing and punishments for offenders. Unfortunately, with the rise of serious Juvenile crime in the sass’s, the original plan was inadequate for these offenses.
The state legislature decided to do away with the point system and instead incorporated a system that mirrored the adult system. Even first time Juvenile offenders could be incarcerated. Sentencing guidelines were now based solely on the seriousness of the offense as well as prior felony convictions. Other changes included longer sentencing and increased probationary periods. Another major change in the Washington Juvenile System was automatic-decline for violent Juvenile offenders.
Under the expansion of this power, all sixteen and seventeen year old violent offenders would automatically be transferred into the adult system regardless of mitigating factors that most states use to decide Judicial waiver. The last major change the legislature passed was allowing priors in the Juvenile system to count toward sentencing in the adult system. Under the new system all felonies would not be sealed which was used to deter youths from criminal behavior at an early age. While the most radical changes in the Juvenile Justice system came from the accountable for their actions.
From the beginning of the 20th century a drastic shift in how to deal with Juvenile delinquency has shifted from a pure rehabilitative measure to a punitive system will only limited aspects of the rehabilitative system. Part II: Capital Murder against Juveniles Thomas Granger, in 1642 became the first Juvenile known to be executed in America. Since that execution, 361 individuals have been executed for crimes committed when they were Juveniles. (Street, 2000) Kent v United States was an important decision because it limited the waiver discretion of courts in transferring cases to the adult system.
This decision gave sights to Juveniles for a fair hearing where evidence could be presented to decide whether a Juvenile should be waived into the adult system. However, this decision made it so if evidence was shown to waive Jurisdiction to the adult system, the juvenile would be considered an adult and therefore was applicable to the same punishments that an adult would face. The Supreme Court did not grant certiorari to hear cases against the Juvenile death penalty under the eighth amendment until 1987.
Previously, at least five cases were denied a hearing by the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the Juvenile death penalty. The first major decision of the Supreme Court in a challenge to the Juvenile death penalty was the case of Thompson v Oklahoma 487 U. S. 815; 108 S. Ct. 2687; 101 L. Deed. D 702 (1988). The case dealt with a fifteen year-old boy who was convicted of brutally murdering his brother-in-law. At the time of the crime, the Juvenile was only fifteen years old. The district attorney used his prosecutorial discretion power granted under Oklahoma statute.
The prosecutor met waiver requirements because of the seriousness of the crime and proved the boy to be not amenable to rehabilitative treatment, despite the very young age of the child. The Supreme Court finally granted certiorari in a Juvenile capital murder case. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision to impose the death penalty. However, the majority was unable to formalize an opinion in which they all concurred, but agreed that imposing the death penalty against a defendant under the age of sixteen would violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the eighth amendment.
Besides the obvious importance of the decision in setting a minimum age for liability of capital punishment, noteworthy are the reasoning of the individual Justices in making their decision. Justice Stevens, Coined by Brenna, Marshall, and Blackman) standards of decency that crimes committed by Juveniles were less culpable. Justice O’Connor argued national consensus forbidding the execution of Juveniles under the age of sixteen exists. This reasoning shows that the Judges are influenced by public perceptions and changes in case law may be predicated by the publics beliefs.
The obvious next question after the case of Thompson v Oklahoma would be, what about the death penalty for Juveniles who were sixteen and seventeen years old? The next year certiorari was granted in the case Stanford v Kentucky 492 U. S. 361; 109 S. Ct. 2969; 106 L. Deed. D 306 (1989). Two separate cases involving Juveniles convicted of murder at ages of sixteen and seventeen with a past record of delinquency was brought before the court.
In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the lower courts determination that capital punishment for sixteen and seventeen year olds did not violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the eighth amendment. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority noted, the majority of the states that have laws allowing capital punishment for minors due so specifically for those aged over sixteen. This rebuffs the notion of a modern national consensus forbidding the imposition of the death penalty.
Scalia also notes that foreign nations sentencing guidelines should have no effect on the decision of the court because American law has its own unique legal history. Another noteworthy conclusion by the majority is the determination of transfer statutes certify that the Juvenile’s individualized considerations are taken into account during this phase. Therefore, the fact that Judicial waiver has brought the case into the adult system, the moral maturity and responsibility of the child is equal to any person in the adult criminal system. While not specifically a case dealing with the Juvenile death penalty, the case Atkins v Virginia 122 S.
Ct. 2242 (2002) is equally important as the previous cases. In a 6-3 decision the Supreme Court held that executing criminal who were mentally retarded violated the eight amendment of the Constitution. The majority ruled that the mentally retarded had deficiencies in “respect to information processing, communication, abstract and logical reasoning, impulse control, and understanding of others”. The court ruled that these deficiencies diminished a person’s blameworthiness. Therefore, the argument of the death penalty being used as a tool f deterrence and retribution is flawed.
The majority also argued that outside forces such as foreign laws, religious groups, world community and opinion polls prove that consensus shows against these executions. While this decision did not necessarily mention Juvenile cases, the reasoning of the justices laid the groundwork for revisiting the precedent set forth by Stafford v Kentucky. The United States has taken an incredible amount of criticism over recent years for its stance on allowing capital punishment. Beginning in 1990, only seven countries in the world still allowed executions of Juveniles.
Besides the United States, countries who are routinely chastised for alleged human rights violations (I. E. China, Iran) also permitted Juvenile execution. Amnesty International has been possibly the most vocal advocacy groups persuading the United States to banish the death penalty against Juveniles. In September 2002, Amnesty International published a report in strong objection to Juvenile capital punishment. The main points in the article were very similar to the dissenters in the Stanford v Kentucky case and the majority Judges in Atkins v Virginia.
The report highlighted that many of the same characteristics exist between minors ND the mentally disabled. Amnesty International argued that the mentally retarded still knew the difference between right and wrong but the court overturned the decision because they lack the mental process to engage in logical reasoning. Evidence has shown that while Juveniles can differentiate between right and wrong, they act on pure impulse, therefore rejecting the notion of capital punishment as a deterrent for future criminals.
The fact that privileges of adults are denied to juveniles of sixteen and seventeen prove their irresponsibility and therefore limits a child’s culpability. Amnesty International also harps on the fact of the world’s attitudes against Juvenile capital punishment. In the sass’s only seven countries in the world still allowed this practice. By May 2002, only the United States had not ratified the treaty of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which under a provision would make it a violation of human rights to execute anyone under the age of eighteen.
In 1997, the International Commission of Jurists, consisting of Judges and lawyers from all legal systems refuted the United States “standards of decency” and must look at precedent from around the world and instead follow “global standards” articulated by human rights instruments. Therefore, the US must follow all treaties of international law regardless if they have ratified them because of the overwhelming support of the international community. Dissenting Judges in decisions that limited the use of the Juvenile death penalty have argued that standards of the world community are irrelevant in deciding law for the United States.
Justice Scalia, in two separate court opinions disagreeing with the world consensus argument; “We must never forget that it is a Constitution for the United States of America that we are expounding”. Noteworthy were the countries who in the sass’s who have listened to Amnesty International and other advocates, to conform and abolish Juvenile capital led to the deaths of twenty-five people. In July 2002, Pakistan overturned the death penalty of seventy-four child offenders and commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.
Clearly, the world’s determination of this practice is to no longer juveniles. Part lb. Majority Consensus in United States In addition to the international community in discouraging capital punishment, a national consensus against this punishment has been argued. First, the majority of he states before the Roper v Simmons decision had laws against the Juvenile death penalty. Besides the twelve states who oppose the death penalty altogether, another eighteen states who allow capital punishment have enacted laws specifically protecting Juveniles from being subjected to this penalty.
Since the Stanford decision, five states raised the minimum age of execution to eighteen, reasoning that minors do not have the cognitive ability to realize the consequences of their crimes. No state after the Stanford decision has passed law lowering the age of execution in their jurisdiction. In addition to the thirty states who no longer allow the practice of executing Juveniles, the remaining twenty states rarely use the death penalty. In fact, since Stanford v Kentucky only six states have executed people for crimes when they were Juveniles.
Moreover, in the last ten years only three states have executed criminals; Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Coupled with polling data from the ASS national survey, more than two-thirds of the population does not believe in sentencing Juveniles under the age of eighteen to death under any circumstance. In addition the opinion of the general population, advocacy groups also took a stance n trying to overturn Juvenile capital punishment. The American Bar Association has been extremely vocal in showing disproportionate sentencing in death penalty cases as another reason for dissolving this practice.
According to data in June 2000, seventy-four offenders were on death row from crimes committed as Juveniles. Everyone one of them was a male and seventy-three of them committed the crime at age seventeen. 63% of those on death row were minorities, reflecting the disproportional sentencing. Of those sentenced to death, 64% of their victims were white. These numbers show that minorities are negatively affected sentences imposed upon them. Part V: Roper v Simmons At age 17, a Juvenile Simmons planned and committed murder.
He was convicted of the crime, which was undoubtedly premeditated. Simmons told his friends that he was planning to murder someone and would be able to get away with it because they were minors. The premeditated nature and heinousness of the crime led the Jury to recommend a sentence of death. On appeal to the Missouri Supreme court, Simmons could not be sentenced to death. The Supreme Court granted certiorari as the state court’s decision directly went against the decision of Stafford v Kentucky.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed Missouri state court decision that under the Eight Amendment, a Juvenile could not be sentenced to death because that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Notably, Justice Kennedy changed his position; now believing that minors cannot be sentenced to death. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, alleged that since Stafford v Kentucky, a national consensus had emerged because the majority of states now bar executions of those under eighteen. Furthermore, no state since the Stafford case had lowered the age below eighteen.
Also, because of the imposition of the death penalty has become so infrequent, it is now considered both cruel and unusual. The majority also argues that only the worst offenders can be ever subjected to death. The lack of responsibility, maturity and development make it impossible for juveniles to be the worst offenders. Second, outside influences affect adolescents more than adults and therefore cannot have the same culpability as adults. The majority also stresses that mica briefs from the international community prohibiting the execution of Juveniles prove the world’s attitude against these practices.
Being the only country still allowing these executions is detrimental to our international stature. Last, because of our close ties to the United Kingdom we must look at their laws and with abolishing the Juvenile death penalty long ago, we can look at their precedent for our laws. Part VI: Future Problems for Supreme Court Justice Cilia’s scathing dissent from the majority brings up valid arguments against the power of the Supreme Court. He contends that the original philosophy of the high court written by Alexander Hamilton, “the Judiciary … Has neither FORCE nor WILL but merely Judgment” is no longer valid.
No longer are cases decided independently by fact and precedent but instead he contends the moral Judgments of the Justices are influencing the courts decisions. Instead of the legislative branch, (supposed voice of the people) the courts are proclaiming themselves the “moral arbitrator to decide which laws are Just or not. This notion goes directly against how courts of the past have acted; “In a democratic society [**57] legislatures, not courts, are constituted to respond to the will and consequently the moral values of the people” Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 175-176, 49 L. Deed. D 859, 96 S. . 2909 (1976). In our current political world, the appointment of federal Judges has become more political than ever before. Current presidents have been more likely to try to appoint judges with political views compatible with their own. This has often led to congressmen with differing beliefs to try to invalidate those appointments. Judicial Constitution but who will interpret it the way the politicians want it interpreted. Undoubtedly, the biggest problem in cases being decided so arbitrarily is the chance that controversial cases such as the Juvenile death penalty can change in the future.
If tomorrow, two of the more liberal Judges die and President Bush gets two new appointments to the Supreme Court, the constitutionality can once again shift. Therefore hypothetically the “national consensus” can shift in one day. The Supreme Court legislating from the bench is now running the risk that their decisions on controversial opinions may be overturned as a direct result of the personal attitudes of those sitting on the bench. If this was to happen, the credibility of the most distinguished and honored court in the land will be forever lapsed both at home and in the international community.