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Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles By Fred Barbash
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
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      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email

      Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty for Juveniles

      By Fred Barbash
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Tuesday, March 1, 2005; 3:07 PM

      The Supreme Court, in a landmark death penalty
      decision, today barred executions of people under 18
      years of age at the time of their crimes.

      By vote of 5-to-4, the court said in a case from
      Missouri that there is now a "consensus" in American
      society that juveniles, along with the mentally
      retarded, are "less culpable" for their crimes because
      they lack sound judgment.

      Execution is therefore a "disproportionate" sanction
      that violates the 8th Amendment's prohibition of cruel
      and unusual punishment, the court ruled, overturning a
      precedent it established in Stanford v. Kentucky in
      1989.

      The court has already banned capital punishment on
      offenders who committed crimes under the age of 15.
      Today�s decision will move 70 people off death row.

      The decision almost certainly means that Washington
      area sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, sentenced to life in
      Fairfax County after a jury declined to impose the
      death penalty, cannot be sentenced to death elsewhere
      in the state, which is one of 20 that allow the
      imposition of capital punishment on people that young.

      A growing number of states have forbidden the death
      penalty for crimes committed by juveniles, either by
      law or by state court ruling, a trend cited by the
      Supreme Court today in establishing that as the
      country's views are changing, so should the court's.

      Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, which
      included Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter,
      Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

      The dissenters were Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who
      said no such "consensus" had been established, and
      Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice
      William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas, who wrote that
      the court was improperly substituting its own views
      for the views of the country's state legislatures.

      "The court says in so many words that what our
      people's laws say about the issue does not, in the
      last analysis, matter," Scalia said.

      The case at issue came from Missouri, where the
      state's highest court overturned the death sentence
      given to Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he
      kidnapped a neighbor, hog-tied her and threw her off a
      bridge in 1993. Prosecutors say he planned the
      burglary and killing of Shirley Crook and bragged that
      he could get away with it because of his age.

      The Supreme Court's decision continues a gradual
      narrowing by the court during the past 30 years of the
      circumstances in which capital punishment may be
      imposed. Most recently, it said that individuals who
      were mentally retarded at the time of their crime
      could not be executed.

      As it has narrowed, the court has explicitly
      considered public opinion, specifically what it has
      called society's "evolving standards of decency." As
      the country's attitudes toward the ultimate punishment
      have changed, the court has said, so may the laws.

      This is the situation in this case, the court stated
      today. Fewer and fewer states are actually executing
      people for crimes committed as juveniles, Kennedy
      said. Since the Stanford ruling in 1989, five states
      that allowed the juvenile death penalty have abandoned
      it.

      "We consider the change . . . to be significant,"
      Kennedy wrote, not so much because of "'the number of
      these states . . ." but because of "'the consistency
      of the direction of change.'"
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