Juvenile Death Penalty Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1651 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Juvenile Death Penalty Sentencing Is Cruel and Unjust Punishment

In America, twenty-five states permit the execution of juveniles, twenty-one states set the minimum age for execution at 16 and four states at set it at 17. No other Western country, no other industrialized state, and in fact no other democracy in the world allows juveniles to be executed. In fact, since 1990, the United States joins only Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as nations that have executed children. With nine executions of juveniles since the year 1990, the American criminal justice system executes a larger number of children than the rest of the Earth combined. In fact, just the state of Texas, with five juvenile executions since 1990, executes more children than any other nation in the world (Amnesty International, 1998).

Juvenile Death Penalty is Racist

The juvenile death penalty is also completely blatantly racist in its structure, design and application. Over two-thirds - the overwhelming majority -- of the 288 children executed in the United States have been African-Americans. Also, every one of the children executed in America for the crimes of rape or attempted rape (40 children in all) have been African-American. As of October 1, 1998 an amazing sixty-five percent (33 blacks and 15 Latinos compared to 26 whites) of the children on death row in the United States were minority offenders (Strieb, 1998).

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In addition, the concept and reality of bias by the victim's race is also pervasive in juvenile death penalty cases. As of October 1, 1998 sixty-eight percent (n=64) of the cases in which a juvenile was sentenced to the death penalty in America in the post-Furman era involved a white victim. Plus, issues of age and gender bias also come up in view of the fact that 83% of the victims in these cases were adults and half were female. Ninety-eight percent of the juveniles sentenced to death were male (Strieb, 1998: 12) and only four cases involved sentencing females to the death penalty.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Juvenile Death Penalty Assignment

Juvenile Death Penalty is Irrational

The juvenile death penalty law is legally more arbitrary and capricious than the death penalty for adults. Legal research has constantly demonstrated that the linkage of capital punishment in the United States is entirely arbitrary.

From state to state and across the nation, and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the various states, criminal defendants who commit similar homicides are treated differently for no tangible reason except an anachronistic reliance on states' rights.

Of course, the death penalty is not always sought when it is available. Sometimes the state actually seeks the death penalty, and sometimes it does not, and truth be told, the death penalty is avoided many more times than it is sought. Even when the death penalty is sought, the jury has the ultimate control: Sometimes juries sentence the offender to death, sometimes not.

With all of this fluidity, legal and sociological researchers have compared the application of the death penalty to a lottery selected by no rational process at all (Berk, et al., 1993; Gross and Mauro, 1989; Paternoster 1991). And indeed, the logic behind the juvenile death penalty is even more lacking. About 1.8% of all people executed in the United States were minorrs (under 18 years of age) at the time of the offense (Capital Punishment Research Project, 1998).

In the post-Furman years (up to December 1, 1998) there were twelve juvenile executions, or about 2% of all executions since 1973 (Strieb, 1998: 3). Despite major increases and declines in juvenile homicide rates during the 1980s and 1990s, the rate of juvenile death sentences has remained constant at about 2% of all executions, raising the dangerous and sobering question of whether its use is even related to incidence of homicide (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997).

Juvenile executions contradict treatment of juveniles generally

Juvenile death sentences are reversed at an extraordinarily high rate by the courts. Of the 177 juvenile death sentences imposed since 1973, only 74 (42%) remain on the books. Twelve of these have resulted in actual executions (7%) and ninety-one (51%) have been reversed upon successful appeal (Strieb, 1998). "For the 103 juvenile death sentences that have been resolved (excluding the seventy-four still under litigation) the reversal rate is 88% (91 out of 103). The clear implication of this sobering fact is that in cases where the state wishes to execute a child, serious problems of prosecutorial misconduct, defense attorney incompetence, and judicial error appear to dominate." (Strieb, 1988)

The juvenile death penalty flies in the face of virtually every other law regarding children in the United States. The law in most American states treats juveniles as humans sans sufficient maturity and judgment to exercise a wide range of rights. In most states the age of majority is 18; 21 is earliest age at which alcohol may be purchased, possessed and imbibed; children may not enter into contracts until the age of 18; "children may not buy cigarettes until the age of 18; children must be 18 before agreeing to donate their organs; children must be 18 before they may execute a will; children must be 18 before entering into a marriage; and, of course, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution sets the voting age in the United States at 18." (Strieb, 1998)

The contradictions latent in the laws and regulations that factor that minorities do not possess sufficient responsibility, maturity or judgment to make these myriad decisions, while concurrently assuming that they are in full control of their judgments when they engage in criminal behavior is a morbid and illogical contradiction in the law. This is especially the situation in homicides where much evidence indicates that (1) children have an underdeveloped and undersophisticated concept of death; and (2) the children are often very impulsive and completely reckless in their actions.

The human element of juvenile executions

But most critically, the error of executing children cannot be fully comprehended until one examines the individual cases of children who have been executed by the various states in America. Invariably, the children the state executes have four common characteristics: (1) they were often mentally ill or mentally retarded at the moment they committed they crime; (2) they were themselves the unfortunate victims of horrifying sexual and physical abuse; (3) they were victimized by a society which has one of the most stifling child poverty and infant mortality percentage-rates on Earth and which assigns many minorities to existences of hopelessness and grinding poverty; and, (4) they were represented by inexperienced, unskilled, uncaring and incompetent attorneys.

As a result, the truth of juvenile executions in the United States is that America executes the poor, ill and infirm without providing them with any advocacy. To say that such a policy reeks of eugenics and "ethnic cleansing" is almost an understatement. Consider the following (Amnesty International, 1998):

In 1977, Dalton Prejean, at the age of 17 murdered a police officer in Louisiana. This black child was tried before an all-white jury and represented by a court-appointed defense attorney. His IQ was measured at 71, which means he had virtually no capacity to reason. When we has two weeks old his mother abandoned him to the care of a relative with a long history of violence. At the age of 13 he was institutionalized suffering from a series of mental illnesses including schizophrenia. At the age of 14, after having been released from care because of inadequate state resources allocated to mental illness, he murdered a taxi driver. He was recommitted after the murder and doctors recommended long-term hospitalization related to his mental illness. Nonetheless, when state funds once again ran out, Dalton was once again released, and committed the crime for which he was executed in May 18, 1990. Dalton Prejean was murdered by a state that refused to provide… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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