Juvenile Death Penalty

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Death at 18?
One of the most controversial issues in the country today is addressed in the question, "Should the death penalty be applied to juveniles, and if so how young is too young?" The death penalty has been in the United States for many, many years, and the United States still has yet to figure out how to solve all its dilemmas and whether or not the penalty is right or wrong. Debates about the use of the death penalty for juveniles have grown more intense because of the recent demand for harsher punishment for serious and violent crimes. The death penalty has been in effect for many years and although some states have ruled it unconstitutional, it is still being used in many states today. The very first juvenile ever to be put to death in America was Thomas Graunger. He was found guilty for bestiality in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in early 1642 and faced execution by hanging (Cothern). At this time, there were no laws defining the age at which a child could be executed. In fact, history records child executions as young as seven and as old as eighteen. Today there are many different laws which regulate who can be executed, including laws regarding age limitations. One of these such laws occurred in 1988 when, as the result of the Thompson vs. Oklahoma case, the United States Supreme Court decided that the 8th Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment made it unconstitutional to execute anyone who had committed a crime under the age of sixteen (JVD in Context). This case has made it clear that no matter what the criminal justice law is in any state, the age at which the death penalty can be implemented cannot be below sixteen. Presently, twenty-eight states have chosen the minimum age of eighteen, five states have the minimum age of seventeen, and fourteen states have chosen the minimum age of sixteen (Strieb). The overall reasoning behind the age limit in criminal sentencing is because of the overwhelming belief that being that "juveniles are underdeveloped and immature, particularly in the areas of the brain that dictate reason, impulse control, and decision-making, and therefore should not be held culpable" (Montaldo). Although this reasoning has been a strong force in setting age limits, it has not served to ban juvenile death sentences altogether. However, many people strongly believe that no juvenile should be given the death penalty at all, under any circumstances.

As the law stands now, the only time it is possible for the death penalty to be applied to juvenile offenders is when the offender is transferred out of the juvenile courts and into harsher, more justified, adult criminal courts. It is in the adult criminal court that a "child" who has been found guilty of a heinous crime can be punished to the full extent of the law, with all the punishments deserved. One method of transporting juvenile offenders from juvenile courts into adult criminal courts is through a judicial waiver There are eight main factors a judge must consider before making the waiver decision, such as, the seriousness of the offense committed by the juvenile, the maturity level of the juvenile at home and in public, their school and criminal records and history, and if the public would be protected or not. These strict guidelines, known as the Kent Criteria, came about in 1966 as the result of the case of Kent vs. the United States, in which the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of a juvenile court judge to waive juvenile court jurisdiction (Cothern). In the initial case, the juvenile offender was charged with a crime that would have been a felony had the offender been over the age of eighteen. The juvenile judge transferred the offender out of the juvenile courts and into the adult criminal court where the minor was convicted and sentenced to thirty to ninety years in prison, without parole. However, the United States Supreme Court found out that the juvenile judge had made no...
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