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Roper v

Roper v. Simmons,

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) was a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, which held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18. The case was decided on March 1, 2005, by a vote of 5-4.

The Case

This case, which originated in Missouri, involved Christopher Simmons, who in 1993 at the age of 17, concocted a plan to murder Shirley Crook, bringing two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plot. The plan was to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and tossing the victim off a bridge. The three met in the middle of the night; however, Tessmer then dropped out of the plot. Simmons and Benjamin broke into Mrs. Crook's home, bound her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge.

Once this case was brought to trial, the evidence against Simmons was overwhelming. He had confessed to the murder, performed a videotaped reenactment at the crime scene, and there was testimony from Tessmer against Simmons that showed premeditation (he discussed the plot in advance and later bragged about the crime). The jury returned a guilty verdict. Even considering mitigating factors (no prior criminal history, sympathy from Simmons' family, and most significantly for the later appeal, his age), the jury nonetheless recommended a death sentence, which the trial court imposed. Simmons first moved for the trial court to set aside the conviction and sentence, citing, in part, ineffective assistance of counsel. His age, and thus impulsiveness, along with a troubled background were brought up as issues that Simmon's claimed should have been raised at the sentencing phase. The trial court rejected the motion, and Simmons appealed.

The case worked its way up the court system, with the courts continuing to uphold the death sentence. However, in light of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), that overturned the death penalty for the mentally retarded, Simmons filed a new petition for state post conviction relief, and the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders" and sentenced Simmons to life imprisonment without parole.

The State of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. (Donald P. Roper, the Superintendent of the correctional facility where Simmons was held, was a party to the action because it was brought as a petition for a writ of Habeas corpus.)

The Ruling

The case was argued on October 13, 2004. The appeal challenged the constitutionality of capital punishment for persons who were juveniles when their crimes were committed, citing the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Previously, a 1988 Supreme Court decision Thompson v. Oklahoma barred execution of offenders under the age of 16. In 1989, another case, Stanford v. Kentucky upheld the possibility of capital punishment for offenders who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed the capital offense. The same day in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Penry v. Lynaugh, that it was permissible to execute the mentally retarded. However, in 2002, that decision was overruled in Atkins v. Virginia, where the Court held that evolving standards of decency had made the execution of the mentally retarded cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional.

Under the "evolving standards of decency" test, the Court held that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy cited a body of scientific and sociological research [1] that found that juveniles have a lack of maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults. Adolescents were found to be overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior. The Court noted that in recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibited those under age 18 from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. The studies also found that juveniles are also more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. They have less control, or experience with control, over their own environment. They also lack the freedom that adults have, in escaping a criminogenic setting.

In support of the "national consensus" position, the Court noted the increasing infrequency with which states were applying capital punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the decision, 20 states had the juvenile death penalty on the books, but only six states had executed prisoners for crimes committed as juveniles since 1989. Only three states had done so in the past 10 years: Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Furthermore, five of the states that allowed the juvenile death penalty at the time of the 1989 case had since abolished it.

The Court also looked to international law to support the holding. Since 1990, only seven other countries – Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China – have executed defendants who were juveniles at the time of their crime. Justice Kennedy noted that since 1990 each of those countries had either abolished the death penalty for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice, and that the United States stood alone in allowing execution of juvenile offenders. The Court also noted that only the United States and Somalia had not ratified Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (September 2, 1990), which expressly prohibits capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles.

In drawing the line at 18 years of age for actions with death eligibility, the Supreme Court considered that 18 is also where the law draws the line between minority and adulthood for a multitude of other purposes, overturning its holding in Stanford v. Kentucky that such a consideration was irrelevant.

The Dissent


Justice Scalia wrote a dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, as did Justice O’Connor. The dissents put into question whether a “national consensus” had indeed formed among the state laws, citing the fact that at the time of the ruling only 18 of 38 death penalty states (47%) prohibited the execution of juveniles.

However, the primary objection of the Court's two originalists, Justices Scalia and Thomas, was whether such a consensus was relevant. Justice Scalia argued that the appropriate question was not whether there was presently a consensus against the execution of juveniles, but rather whether the execution of such defendants was considered cruel and unusual at the point at which the Bill of Rights was ratified.

In addition, Justice Scalia also objected in general to the Court's willingness to take guidance from foreign law in interpreting the Constitution; his dissent questioned not only the relevance of foreign law, but also accuseed the Court of "invok[ing] alien law when it agrees with one's own thinking, and ignor[ing] it otherwise," noting that in the case of abortion U.S. laws are less restrictive than the international norm. In a roundtable discussion with Justice Breyer, at American University Law School, Justice Scalia posed the question: "what is the criterion for whether or not to adopt foreign precedent? That it agrees with you?".

Scalia also attacked the majority opinion as being fundamentally anti-democratic. His dissent cited a passage from the Federalist Papers in arguing that the role of the judiciary in the constitutional scheme is to interpret the law as formulated in democratically selected legislatures. Scalia argued that the Court exists to rule on what the law says, not what the law should say, and that it is for the legislature, acting in the manner prescribed in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to offer amendments to the Constitution in light of the evolving standard of decency, not for the Court to arbitrarily make de facto amendments. He challenged the right of unelected lawyers to discern moral values and to impose them on the people in the name of flexible readings of the constitutional text

 

To read the full decision of the supreme court please click here

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Poster Thread
Highlights of 2009

 

Highlights of 2009

 

DC Beltway Sniper is Executed in Virginia - Read more..

Ohio halts execution, cannot find a suitable vein to use - Read more..

Ohio adopts new Lethal Injection Procecdure - Read more..

 

Inmates executed since 1976

2008 Year End Death Penalty Statistics

Current Death Penalty Statistics from the Dept. of Justice

Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics

 

  • In 2008, 37 persons in nine states were executed -- 18 in Texas; 4 in Virginia; 3 each in Georgia and South Carolina; 2 each in Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma, and 1 in Kentucky.
     
  •   Of persons executed in 2008:
    -- 20 were white
    -- 17 were black
     
  •  All 37 inmates executed in 2008 were men.
     
  •  Lethal injection was used in 36 executions in 2008; 1 execution was by electrocution.

 

2007 Year End Death Penalty Statistics

Current Death Penalty Statistics from the Dept. of Justice

Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics


In 2007, 42 persons in 10 States were executed -- 26 in Texas; 3 each in Alabama and Oklahoma; 2 each in Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee; and 1 each in South Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona.

Of persons executed in 2007:
-- 28 were white
-- 14 were black

All 42 inmates executed in 2007 were men.

Lethal injection was used in 41 executions in 2007; 1 execution was by electrocution.

Thirty-eight States and the Federal government in 2007 had capital statutes.