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Juvenile Death Penalty: Is It "Cruel and Unusual" in Light of Contemporary Standards?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Volume: 17 Issue: 4 Dated: Winter 2003 Pages: 21-23
Adam Caine Ortiz
Date Published
3 pages
This article reviews the current debate concerning subjecting juvenile offenders to the death penalty.
The author begins by describing two cases in which juveniles were sentenced to death in Missouri and Texas. In the Missouri case, the State supreme court granted a temporary stay of execution to determine whether the juvenile’s death would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In the Texas case, the juvenile, Napoleon Beazley, was executed; his filings to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and to the governor were denied. Next, the author discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, in which executions of offenders with mental retardation was banned. This is a step toward banning the executions of juveniles because the Court clarified criteria involving an evolving standard of decency in society and whether the death penalty measurably contributes to its goal of retribution and deterrence. The author points out that only two nations currently sanction the death penalty for juveniles: the United States and Iran. According to the article, the world community considers the practice of executing juveniles “gravely inconsistent with prevailing standards of decency.” The author next turns to a discussion of recent scientific studies that have mapped the growth of the brain from childhood through adulthood. These studies have shown that the area of the brain governing inhibition and goal-directed behavior is not fully developed until the ages of 18 to 22. As such, advocates argue that to hold juveniles to the same standards as adults is unreasonable and that, thus, the death penalty for juveniles represents cruel and unusual punishment.