Juvenile Death Penalty One of Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

An interesting and similar development in juvenile justice is the issue of life imprisonment as a cruel and unusual sentence for juvenile offenders. This issue is addressed by Mark Sherman (2009). Sherman states that Joe Sullivan was 13 years old when he attacked and raped an elderly woman. The court judged him as incorrigible and therefore sentenced him to life without parole. Another example is that of Terrance Graham, who took part in several armed robberies during his 16th and 17th years, also given a life sentence for these crimes. The argument appears not to be against the punishment itself, but its disproportionate nature in terms of the crimes committed and the youth of the offenders. They did not commit murder, but were effectively sentenced to eventually die in prison; the replacement for the juvenile death penalty.

According to the author, data compiled by opponents indicate that only a little more than 100 prison inmates were sentenced to life without parole when they were juvenile and committed offenses that were less serious than murder. Arguments for the case have not yet been heard, and time only will tell whether such a punishment is cruel and unusual.

Sherman (2009) also mentions Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in this regard, indicated that youthful persons are less culpable in criminal activity than their adult counterparts. Justice Kennedy is also of the opinion that a minor would be more easily rehabilitated than adults. On the other hand, public safety issues dictate that severe crimes, whether committed by the youth or adults, should be punished with sufficient severity in turn, even if these crimes do not cause death.

Interestingly, opponents against both the juvenile death penalty and against life imprisonment note that the United States is the only country implementing such severe punishments against youthful offenders.


In conclusion, I believe that the death penalty is not a solution for crime either among offenders or the general population. No study has ever conclusively found that the death penalty served as a deterrent for crime. The punishment is indeed cruel and unusual under all circumstances. Even if the criminal cannot be rehabilitated for whatever reason, it is much more reasonable and indeed greater punishment to detain such a person for life without the possibility of parole. Capital punishment serves only to perpetuate violence, and serves no other person than satisfying the drive for revenge and the emotion of anger.

Instead, the chances for both rehabilitation and even reconciliation is much greater and indeed better for society as a whole when the criminal is incarcerated. Such offenders can for example be entered into labor programs for the use of society and its needs. In this way, criminals are duly punished by understanding that they will never again be free, while society benefits from free or cheap labor. This also has the potential to alleviate some of the burden on the taxpayer while also benefiting society as a whole and punishing the offender in kind.

The death penalty is an extremely serious punishment, from which there is no return once it is implemented. This is particularly serious in the case of wrongful conviction or last-minute decisions towards implementing a pardon. Furthermore, a large amount of studies suggest that death penalty convictions tend to be disproportionally allocated to minority groups. When life sentences are implemented, both the possibility of rehabilitation and reversal is recognized.

Finally, I believe the death penalty in the case of juvenile offenders is particularly both harsh, unnecessary and unjust. I tend to agree with the initial institution of the juvenile justice system in its recognition of youthful offenders as less mature and on a different development level from adults. As such, I believe all juvenile sentences up to the age of 18 years should focus expressly upon rehabilitation. Furthermore, I believe that a countrywide standard should be implemented not only for youthful offenders, but for all other cases of capital crime as well. A differentiation of state standards serves only to dilute the justice system as well as its effectiveness.

There is no doubt that juvenile justice and punishment are extremely difficult issues, particularly in the light of rising crime rates, concomitantly with complicated security issues such as terrorism. The tendency is to want such offenders out of sight, away in a locked facility, where they can do not more harm to the society in which they live. However, one might ask if this is really the answer. Rehabilitation and reentry into society appear to be better options when the well-being of both the youth and the country are taken into account.


American Bar Association. Juvenile Death Penalty Amicus Briefs. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/184748.pdf

Bradley, Curtis A. (2002, Dec.) The Juvenile Death Penalty and International Law. Duke Law Journal, Vol. 52. Downloaded from Social Science Research Network, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=348501

Cothern, Lynn. (2000, Nov.). Juveniles and the Death Penalty. Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/184748.pdf

Death Penalty Information Center. (2009). The Legal Context of the Juvenile Death Penalty. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/juvenile-offenders-who-were-death-row#streiblegal

Heise, Michael. (2004). Mercy by the Numbers: An Empirical Analysis of Clemency and Its Structure. Center for the Study of Law and Society Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program. Downloaded from escholarship.org.

Liptak, Adam (2009, May 4). Justices Agree to Take Up Sentencing for Young Offenders. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/us/05scotus.html?_r=2

Richey, Warren. (2005, March 2). Juvenile death penalty abolished. The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0302/p01s01-usju.html

Sherman, mark (2009, Nov 8). High court to look at life in prison for juveniles. The Associated Press, http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/washington/6709826.html

Streib, Victor L. (2005). The Juvenile Death Penalty Today: Death Sentences and Executions for Juvenile Crimes, January 1, 1973-February 28, 2005. Ohio Northern University http://www.law.onu.edu/faculty_staff/faculty_profiles/coursematerials/streib/juvdeath.pdf

Voice of Aurora. (2009). Time for America to Move Past Capital Punishment. Death Penalty Information…

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