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Should Juveniles Receive the Death Penalty?

Updated on July 29, 2018

The question of whether juveniles should receive the death penalty is a controversial subject for many. There are so many variables to consider regarding this subject. I believe this subject is relevant because in recent news reports we are increasingly hearing about juveniles committing some violent and heinous crimes. We don't normally think of juveniles as rapist, robbers or murderers, but when these crimes are committed by juveniles should they receive the same punishment as an adult who committed the same crimes?

Juveniles have been executed in the United States as far back as 1642. That first execution took place in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. There has been 361 people put to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18 in United States. There are other countries that execute juveniles, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Most countries do not believe in the practice of executing juveniles. The United States abolished the execution of juvenile offenders under the age of 18 in 2005. The case before the United States Supreme Court was Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), wherein the Supreme Court ruled that "the execution of people who were under 18 at the time of their crimes violates the federal constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment." This was a turning point in our country, and there were plenty of debates from people that did not agree with the ruling, and others who felt the ruling was the absolute right thing to do.

The argument that played a part in the decision of Roper v. Simmons, was an opinion by The American Psychological Association, written by Laurence Steinberg and Elizabeth Scott, which explained that juveniles decision-making capability was immature, they were impulsive, and could be influenced by peer pressure, and lacked the ability to realize the long term and short term consequences for their actions. Another factor considered in the brief was MRI research which found that the brain is still in the developmental stage through young adulthood and could affect the decisions that some juveniles make. I am sure there will be many people who will say if they are mature enough to commit murder, they are mature enough to suffer the consequences. On the other side of the coin, what if the youths are not developmentally mature, and at some point in their adult lives they can be rehabilitated to become productive citizens and can make positive contributions to society in the future? These are questions that I am sure were debated around the country.

The United States is no longer sentencing juveniles to the death penalty, but some juveniles today have no respect for authority or themselves, no respect for human life and wreak havoc in our society. The taxpayers have to foot the bill for these adolescents to be housed in prisons for many years or sometimes for the rest of their lives, depending on the severity of the crimes they commit. There is no easy answer for this debate, and definitely not an answer that will satisfy everyone.

What I take away from this is that there are sometimes issues in our society that there is no right or wrong answer. It all depends on your personal views and beliefs. The Courts, however, have the obligation of making a decision on the facts that are put before them. They can't allow their personal beliefs to interfere with their decisions to apply the law as it is written. Our youth in this country need parents to be parents. I believe that one of the reasons that are youth end up in the court systems in the first place is due to the lack of parenting skills. A couple of suggestions to keep our youth out of the prison systems would be to make parents responsible for the acts of their children. What if parents could be made to face consequences for the acts of their children? This might reduce the number of juveniles ending up in the prison system. The debate surrounding the execution of juveniles will undoubtedly be a discussion we will be having as long a juveniles are committing these murderous acts.


American Psychological Association

Cite: American Psychologist, Vol. 58(12), Dec. 2003, 1009-1018

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