Whether or not Juveniles are Subject to the Death Penalty

As time continued, the juvenile court system continued to make steps in making it procedures more like criminal courts. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), a twelve-year-old boy, Samuel Winship had been arrested and charged for breaking into a woman’s locker and stealing $112 from her purse. The Family Court found Winship guilty based on the “preponderance of evidence” or available evidence making it more likely than not that the person had committed a crime. In a similar situation, an adult offender’s guilt would be based on the court proving guilt, “beyond a reasonable doubt”, a higher standard, meaning the available evidence leaves one firmly convinced of guilt. In a 5-3 decision, The Supreme Court found that when establishing guilt of criminal charges, the reasonable-doubt standard must be applied to both juveniles and adults. As long as incarceration was a possible sentence, the use of different burdens of proof would not suffice based upon age variations. (In re Winship) Another possible sentence for juvenile offenders was the death penalty. That was until the case of Roper v. Simmons in 2005 in which the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for any crime committed under the age of eighteen. In Roper v. Simmons 543 U.S. 551 (2005), Christopher Simmons was sentenced to death in 1993, at the age of 17. After many appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that executing the mentally ill, was in violation of the eighth and fourteenth amendment, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to reconsider the Simmons case. The Missouri Court cited laws passing since 1989, limiting the scope of the death penalty towards children, showing the national opinion had changed and the majority of Americans were against executing children. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the standards of decency had evolved and executing minors was considered “cruel and unusual”, therefore prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. (Roper v. Simmons)

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Although the death penalty has been taken off of the table for non-homicidal crimes, the United States still sentences juveniles to life in prison without parole. This has been the subject of controversy for such organizations as the ACLU, who continue to present that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. Currently twenty nine states have laws that state juveniles that have been convicted of murder cannot be subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. (‘End Juvenile Life Without Parole’) In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), two separate cases of fourteen year old convicted of capital murder were presented to the court stating the mandatory life sentences were a violation of the eighth amendment. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the eighth amendment forbid the imposition of a life sentence without parole. Yet in this Supreme Court ruling, judges are given the discretion to sentence a minor to life in prison depending upon the circumstance and an individualized approach to each case. (Miller v. Alabama)

As the states continue to decide on whether or not juveniles are subject to the death penalty, they also individually have acceptable methods of serving justice to juvenile offenders. Usually called disposition orders, juvenile courts have a wide range of options of sentencing. These fall into two categories: incarceration and non incarceration. Juveniles can be incarcerated but the methods are very different from those of involving adult offenders. This includes house arrest or home confinement, in which the juvenile is ordered to remain at home except to attend school and/or work. The court can also require that they be placed with someone other than a parent or guardian which can be with a relative or in a group home. The minor can also be sent to a Juvenile Detention Facility which is designed for short-term stays. For longer-term stays, juveniles can be sent to secured facilities or “ camps” for months or years. In some cases, juveniles are sent to adult facilities such as county jails or state prisons. In some cases, a juvenile can be sentenced to a juvenile facility and then upon coming of the age of majority they can be sent to adult jails in what is called a “blended sentence”. There are also non-incarceration options for juveniles in which judges have a broad discretion to decide a sentence or rehabilitation program to suit the minor. This can include something as simple as a verbal warning or a fine in which the minor may be required to pay to the government or as compensation to the victim. This can also include counseling in which the juvenile is required to attend as part of a disposition order and community service in which they must work a certain number of hours in service to a local community. Juveniles may also be required to wear a wrist or ankle bracelet that verifies their location at all times. Judges often order juveniles to enter probation in which the minors freedom is limited and their activities are restricted. When placed upon probation, it can include community service, attendance at a certain school, counseling, curfews, and orders that the juvenile not associate with certain individuals such as gang members. They may also have to attend special day treatment programs that provide additional monitoring and educational services. (Michon, 2014)

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Whether Or Not Juveniles Are Subject To The Death Penalty. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved May 17, 2022 , from
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