Historical Tradition Changes: New Policy on the Death Penalty for Minors
Read the following article in the Kaplan Library. (2009). Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons: certiorari to the Supreme Court of Missouri. Supreme Court Cases: The Twenty-first Century (2000 – Present), 1–5.
After you have read the article, write a 3–5 page summary of the article addressing the questions below:
- In Roper v. Simmons, what was basis of the U.S. Supreme Courts’ opinion?
- What was the dissenting opinion?
- What policy and treatment implications can you envision as a result of this decision?
- Do you believe that juveniles should be put to death? Why, or why not?
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Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons: certiorari to the Supreme Court of Missouri. Supreme Court Cases – Article Summary
The Roper v. Simmons Supreme Court Ruling
The Roper v. Simmons Supreme Court ruling of 2005 has become one of the most landmark cases concerning juvenile culpability in heinous acts that attract capital punishment. Simmons was a 17 year old when together with other three teenagers planned and committed capital murder. When he turned 18, he was convicted and sentenced to death (Miller & Beare, 2017). Through his attorney, he made appeal and subsequent petitions for state and federal post conviction relief, which were denied. However, the Supreme Court agreed with Simmons petition that in the in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 ruling, it was established that the execution of a juvenile aged under 18 years was prohibited by the constitution.
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The Basis of the Supreme Court Ruling
The basis for the Supreme Court ruling in the Roper v. Simmons was the Eighth and the Fourteenth Amendments. Initially, the Missouri Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, had determined that the eighth Amendment that is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment bars the execution of the mentally retarded person. Based on these constitutional underpinnings and the developments in the societal traditions and decency, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments prohibits the execution of juveniles who committed their crimes when aged 18.
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The Dissenting Opinion
When the Supreme Court of the United States made a consideration of the death penalty that were being applied to crimes that are committed by persons aged under 18 years in Roper v. Simmons, it held that persons aged between 16 and 18 years may not be executed for heinous crimes. According to (Benekos & Merlo, 2016) during the hearing, the court rule 5-4 that the evolution of decency preceded the application of capital punishment among the offenders who were aged under 18 when their crimes were committed. However, during the court’s ruling, Justice Scalia and Justice O’Connor delivered the dissenting opinions. According to (Scott, 2005) in her dissenting opinion, Justice O’Connor expressed her concerns regarding the establishments of categorical rules that excluded the execution of juvenile justice offenders. Although she acknowledged the majority rules that juveniles are less mature as adults, she challenged the majority to prove that there was a growth in the society’s rejection in capital punishments for juveniles. While pointing that the evidence was weak in the case, she asserted that many state legislatures still allowed capital punishments among persons aged under 17 years.
In her dissent that joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, Justice Scalia pointed that the opinions from the majority judges that there was a development in national consensus regarding juvenile death penalty over the past 15 years, was based on “flimsiest reasons”. He challenged the consensus referred in the court’s opinion that the national consensus had developed when only less than 50% of the states had prohibited juvenile capital punishment (Scott, 2005). He pointed that since the Stamford ruling, only 4 states had established minimum age of 16 through ballot initiatives or statutes.
The Envisioned policy and Treatment Implications Owing to the Decision
In the previous paper, it was pointed that juvenile offenders should be given a right to enjoy their constitutional rights just like adult offenders. This involved being allowed to stand trial as these would give them the opportunity to be granted such rights. Roper v. Simmons ruling is one such example a trial that allowed the juvenile offenders to be granted rights based on their developmental stage. However, the rejection of capital punishments among juveniles offenders offers policy and treatment implications.
The policy implication that can be envisioned owing to the landmark decision in Roper v. Simmons is the need for the development of legislative policies that are oriented towards reforms. The court rulings that allowed the juvenile offenders the right of jurisdictional waiver have led to what Liles & Moak (2014) have termed as “adultification” of the juvenile courts. The policy implications of these changing rulings affecting the juveniles is the need for change in the focus of juvenile courts to ensure the juvenile courts develop regulations that govern juvenile penalties. Given the increasing changes that grant juvenile offenders rights that adult offenders enjoy, it is imperative that juvenile courts have comprehensive laws that govern juvenile penalties. In regard with treatment, the Roper v. Simmons ruling asserted that juvenile offenders are not culpable owing to their developmental stage. This implies that there is need for increased focus on rehabilitative treatment efforts as a better form of reducing juvenile offences.
Should Juveniles be put to Death?
It is of the opinion that juvenile offenders should not be subjected to capital punishment. The human developmental theory asserts that human brain and body undergo development in stages. One of the stages in human development that is common with risk-taking acts is the adolescent stage.
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According to (Steinberg, 2013) the risk-taking acts that occur during adolescent stage are impulsive and occur without full consideration. Subjecting such juveniles to capital punishment due to their developmental influence is not morally plausible. Similarly, subjecting a younger juvenile who may not be an adolescent to capital punishment would be morally wrong since they are yet to develop the capacity to make objective and rational decisions.