Running Head: ROPER V. SIMMONS: EXPLORING THE 2005 LANDMARK DECISION
Roper v. Simmons: Exploring the 2005 Landmark Decision
The landmark Supreme Court decision, Roper v. Simmons, started with a horrific crime in Missouri. A very disturbed seventeen year old named Christopher Simmons planned and carried out the murder of Shirley Crook. A few days prior to the murder Simmons had discussed the plan with a friend and insisted that they would get away with the crime simply because they were minors at the time. The two carried out the crime by removing the woman from her house, binding her hands and feet, and covering her entire face with duct tape. They then took Mrs. Crook to a bridge that spanned the Meramec River where Simmons shoved the woman to her death (Roper v. Simmons, 2004).
The following day Simmons was arrested at school for the murder of Crook. He was interrogated for two hours before he broke down into tears and admitted to the murder. The state charged him as an adult for first degree murder, among other crimes. At trial several witnesses testified that Simmons and discussed a plan to burglarize a house and murder the people in the house. Simmons’s defense argued that his age and the fact that he had no prior criminal history were mitigating factors. The state contended that his age was not mitigating, insinuating that it was atrocious that someone that age could commit such a heinous crime. It took the jury four hours to convict Simmons of first degree murder. The jury had found three aggravating factors and recommended the death penalty. Simmons challenged the ruling arguing that minors under the age of eighteen do not possess the mental maturity to be held culpable for their actions, and therefore the death penalty which is to be reserved for culpable offenders, characterized cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment (Myers, 2006). The Decision
On the first of March in 2005 the Supreme Court made their decision on the Roper v. Simmons case. The 5-4 decision ruled that executing offenders who were under 18 years of age at the time of their crime is a violation of the Eighth Amendments’ ban on cruel and unusual punishment. This decision overturned the decision the Supreme Court had made in 1989 in the Case of Stanford v. Kentucky in which they ruled that states were free to impose the death penalty on offenders older than 16 years of age. This decision to ban juvenile executions was guided by a philosophy of “evolving standards of decency mark the progress of a maturing society” which originally was discussed in the 1958 case of Trop v. Dulles. Since then the same philosophy has resurfaced in nearly every eighth amendment case; establishing an idea that the standards or the eighth amendment are subject to change as society grows and adopts new norms (Adelman, 2005).
In the wake of the 2002 decision of Atkins v. Virginia, which ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded because they lack the culpability, Simmons argued that society’s standards of decency had shifted. He argued that minors are similar to the mentally retarded with the fact that young persons are not mentally matured and therefore incapable of forming culpability.
The precedent of Atkins v. Virginia ultimately weighed heavily in the Supreme Court’s ruling. The two cases nearly mirror each other with the interchangeability of mentally retarded offender and juvenile offender. The Supreme Court looked at several factors including national consensus, proportionality, as well as foreign policy when making their decision (Counsel of Record, 2005). Majority Opinion
The majority opinion in the case of Roper v. Simmons was written by Justice Kennedy, and was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Souter. Their opinion was guided by the courts then recent decision in Atkins v. Virginia on capital punishment of the mentally retarded, as well...
References: Myers, Wayne. (2006, Spring). Roper v. Simmons: The Collision of National Consensus and Proportionality Review. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 947-994. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from
Adelman, Stanley E. (2005, August). Supreme Court Bans Death Penalty for Under-18 Offenders. Corrections Today, Vol 67 Issue 5, p58-61. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=17800366&site=ehost-live
Counsel of Record (2005). ROPER, SUPERINTENDENT, POTOSI CORRECTIONAL CENTER v. SIMMONS. Certiorari to the supreme court of Missouri. Retrieved March 15, 2008 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=19092040&site=ehost-live
Donald P. Roper v. Christopher Simmons (2004). Brief for Respondent. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvjus/simmons/partybrief.pdf
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