Juveniles and the Death Penalty

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Juveniles and the Death Penalty

Introduction to Corrections

Stephanie L. Calvert

December 15, 2007

Juveniles and the death penalty is a hotly debated issue in the criminal justice system. There are two different views on the death penalty some are for and some are against the punishment. Some see juveniles as young and influential and deserve a second chance to clean up and become a productive member of society, while others feel the punishment should fit the crime; no matter what age.

To better understand this issue, let’s start with an explanation of the death penalty. The term death penalty has only meaning, and that meaning is putting a condemned person to death. This is the ultimate punishment for those convicted of murder or other serious capital offenses. The United States Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty is not “cruel and unusual punishment in every instance.” (Law Dictionary, 2003)

Now one must understand the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments that are put in place that rule the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment. The Eight Amendment was put into place in 1791 into the Bill Of Rights. This amendment declares that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” (Oxford University Press 2005). This leaves one with the question as to what is cruel and unusual punishment. “Criminal sentences that are inhuman, outrageous, or shocking to the social conscience are cruel and unusual.” The Court has never provided meaningful definitions for these characteristics. (Law Encyclopedia, 1998)

The second amendment that was mentioned that deals with the death penalty is the Fourteenth Amendment. This amendment was adopted in 1869 after the Civil War and “intended to incorporate the ‘privileges and immunities’ enumerated in the Bill of Rights at the level of the states, and compel state authorities to ensure ‘equal protection of the laws’ for all their citizens.” (Oxford University Press 1992, 2005) This amendment was put into place mainly due to the abolishment of slavery after the civil war to ensure African Americans equal protection, but it states that all citizens of the United States are ensured equal protection from and under the law. (Oxford University Press 2005)

There are two cases that are substantial to the topic of juveniles and the death penalty. The first case is that of Thompson v. Oklahoma and the second is Stanford v. Kentucky.

The significance in the case of Thompson v. Oklahoma (487 U.S. 815, 1988) was that it established a national standard that sentencing defendants under 16 to death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In 1983, when he was 15 years old, Wayne Thompson helped to kidnap and kill his abusive brother-in-law, Charles Keene, who had repeatedly beaten Thompson's sister and other members of their family. Thompson's own life would later be spared in a Supreme Court decision which recognized that both society and the law are works in progress. (Oklahoma Lawyers)

Grady County prosecutors charged four suspects with Keene's murder--Thompson, his half-brother Tony Mann, and two friends, Richard Jones and Bobby Glass. The state decided to try the cases separately. Before the 15-year-old Thompson could be tried as an adult, however, the prosecution had to prove the prospective merits of the case and convince a district court that there was no reasonable hope of his rehabilitation. A psychiatric examination found that Thompson was mentally competent to stand trial. Police records showed violent behavior in Thompson's past, including arrests for crimes ranging from shoplifting to assault. Prosecutors successfully convinced the court that he should be tried as an adult. Keene's murder had been especially gruesome. He had been abducted and savagely beaten. His throat and abdomen had been slashed, he had been shot twice, and his body had been weighted with...
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