The Death of a Child
On June 16th, 1944, the state of South Carolina executed George Stinney, Jr. He was fourteen years, six months, and five days old—the youngest person ever executed in the United States in the 20th Century. Stinney, who was black, was convicted of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, with a railroad spike. The trial lasted three hours, and the all-white jury deliberated for 10 minutes before sentencing George Stinney to death in the electric chair. At Stinney's execution six weeks later, the guards had difficulty strapping him to the electric chair (he was 5' 1" and weighed just over 90 pounds). During the electrocution, the jolt shook the adult-sized mask from his head. On the sixtieth anniversary of his electrocution, one of the last surviving members of George Stinney's family as well as the only living sibling of Betty June Binnicker recalls the event (“George Stinney Youngest Executed” www.soundportraits.org) On March 1, 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence minors under the age of 18 to the death penalty. This decision made history, as it was among the first to protect the general welfare of juvenile offenders. Although juveniles may not be sentenced to death, there are still several problems that exist in the juvenile justice system. Juveniles are not protected in the juvenile justice system; they are often charged as adults for non-violent crimes. It is unconstitutional to incriminate juvenile delinquents as adults; it is a cruel and unusual punishment because they lack cognizance of the crime, they can be rehabilitated, and they are placed in great danger in adult jails and prisons. To begin, it is unconstitutional to incriminate juvenile delinquents as adults because children lack cognizance of the crime in which they committed in most cases. According to Steven Smith’s “Juveniles Should Not Be Placed in Adult Prisons” juveniles are immature by definition (www.galegroup.com). Due to scientific research and technological advances, scientists were successfully able to “map” the brains of children and adults. In the study “Adolescent Brain Development and Legal Culpability,” Dr. Adam Ortiz discovered that a naturally occurring pruning process, which makes the brain’s operation more efficient, is not completed until age 21 or 22” (www.galegroup.com). Ortiz goes on to say “Because the brains of juveniles, particularly the frontal lobes, are not fully developed, youths lack the ability to perform critical adult functions, such as plan, anticipate consequences, and control impulses” (www.galegroup.com). Juveniles have to be allowed the right to both live and learn. Furthermore, it is absurd to believe in the notion that juveniles are capable of making cognitive, responsible decisions without flaw. Ortiz also believes that adolescence is a transitional period of life during which a child is becoming, but is not yet an adult. An adolescent is at a crossroads of changes, where emotions, hormones, judgment, identity, and the physical body are so in flux that expert researchers, as well as parents, struggle to fully understand their impact” (www.galegroup.com). To further support the belief that children lack cognizance of the crime in which they committed in most cases, a study was performed by Dr. Richard E. Redding. Dr. Redding is a professor of law at Villanova University School of Law and a research professor of psychology at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. He is responsible for perhaps one of the best psychological studies of his time. From Redding’s study “What Juvenile Offenders Know About Being Tried as Adults” he lays several truthful opinions. With the belief that harsh punishment with deter juveniles from committing crimes, most states have imposed transfer laws, with which violent juvenile offenders are transferred from the juveniles justice system to...
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