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Why Some "Juvenile" Murderers Should Qualify For The Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact below
There are a number of issues raised in opposition to 16-17 year old murderers
being culpable for the death penalty. Those arguments fail under review.
BRAIN SCIENCE & JUVENILE DEATH PENALTY -- NO HOLY GRAIL (1)
UCLA's Elizabeth Sowell, another prominent brain-development researcher, takes a
dim view of the movement to apply neuroscience to the law. She says that no
current research connects specific brain traits of typical teenagers to any
mental or behavioral problems.
"The scientific data aren't ready to be used by the judicial system," she
remarks. "The hardest thing [for neuroscientists to do] is to bring brain
research into real-life contexts."
"The brain data don't show that adolescents typically have reduced legal
culpability for crimes." Harvard University psychologist Jerome Kagan.
Brain data, particularly those on delayed frontal-lobe growth in adolescents,
also need to be put in a cultural and historical perspective, Harvard's Kagan
asserts. Frontal-lobe development presumably proceeds at roughly the same pace
in teenagers everywhere. Yet current rates of teen violence and murder vary from
remarkably low to alarmingly high from country to country, he notes.
If incomplete brains automatically reduce adolescents' capacity to restrain
their darker urges, "we should be having Columbine incidents every week," he
"Something about cultural context must be critical here," Kagan says. "Under the
right conditions, 15-year-olds can control their impulses without having fully
developed frontal lobes."
The ambiguities of science don't mix with social and political causes, contends
neuroscientist Bradley S. Peterson of the Columbia College of Physicians and
Surgeons in New York City. For instance, it's impossible to say at what age
teenagers become biologically mature because the brain continues to develop in
crucial ways well into adulthood, he argues.
Such findings underscore the lack of any sharp transition in brain development
that signals maturity, according to neuroscientist William T. Greenough of the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Definitions of adulthood change
depending on social circumstances, Greenough points out. Only 200 years ago,
Western societies regarded 16-year-olds as adults.
"Brain science offers no simple take-home message about adolescents," says B.J.
Casey of Cornell University's Weill Medical College in New York City. "It's
amazing how little we know about the developing brain."
Brain-scanning techniques, including the popular MRI, remain a "crude level of
analysis," Casey notes. What's more, many critical brain-cell responses are too
fast for MRI to track.
Science News summarizes these positions: " . . .brain science doesn't belong in
court because there's no evidence linking specific characteristics of teens'
brains to any legally relevant condition, such as impaired moral judgment or an
inability to control murderous impulses. "
AGE, ALONE, CANNOT DICTATE CULPABILITY
No one, including psychiatrists, psychologists and brain specialists, disputes
that some 16-17 year olds are as mature, or more mature, than some of those 18
and older. US Supreme Court Justices, Nobel Peace Prize winners, the American
Medical Association and the European Union agree.
Therefore, the argument against executing some 16-17 year old murderers is
without merit, when it is based upon age, alone.
Is a murderer less culpable solely because they murdered someone one-second, one
minute, one week, one month or one year before their 18th birthday? Of course
US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes:
"Furthermore, granting the premise that adolescents are generally less
blameworthy than adults who commit similar crimes, it does not necessarily
follow that all 15-year-olds are incapable of the moral culpability that would
justify the imposition of capital punishment. Nor is there evidence that
15-year-olds as a class are inherently incapable of being deterred from major
crimes by the prospect of the death penalty." (2)
It is argued that because people have to be older to drink, vote, marry, etc.,
that it is hypocritical to say that some 16-17 year olds are mature enough to be
death eligible for committing capital murder. If society so wished it could
individually evaluate 16-17 years olds (just as we do within the criminal
justice system) to determine which of those were as mature as 18-21 year olds
and allow those to participate in those responsibilities and privileges. No one
doubts that many would qualify. Furthermore, there is a major difference between
a social privilege and culpability for capital murder.
MacArthur Juvenile Competence Study: "The study did not find differences between
juveniles aged 16 and 17 and young adults (18-24) in abilities relevant to their
competence to stand trial." (3)
If polls reflected respondents detailed knowledge and review, as found, above,
there is little doubt that a majority of the public would support the death
penalty for some 16-17 year old murderers.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION
Those who claim that the death penalty is a human rights violation have failed
to make their case.
It is presented that some US states are equal with a number of less democratic
nations that execute those who were under age 18 when they committed their
murder(s). First, the US criminal justice system is quite different from those
nations. Second, as no one disputes that many 16-17 year olds are as mature as
some 18-21 year olds, this argument means nothing.
In terms of proportionality, execution cannot be viewed as disproportionately
severe in relation to the crime. The innocent murder victim did not earn or
deserve their fate, whereas the murderer voluntarily took the lives of the
innocent and thereby volunteered for the punishment available within that
copyright 2001-2004 Dudley Sharp
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
(1) excerpts from "Teen Brains on Trial", Bruce Bower, Science News, 5/8/04,
vol. 165, No. 19, p.299
(2) Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988)
(3) from Study Summary, " MacArthur Juvenile Competence Study",
Full Study, Results,
NOTE: the study was partially funded by the Open Society Institute, one of the
Soros Foundations, a product of George Soros, who may be he largest financier of
anti death penalty efforts, worldwide.
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.
Posted: 2008/9/11 16:18 Updated: 2008/11/6 21:48
Re: Why Some "Juvenile" Murderers Should Qualif...
Allowing a HUMAN being to get away with a capital crime and marking it up to lack of brain development is total BS. If an individual intentionaly deprives another of life, for no just cause (self defense), that person should forfit their right to be in circulation. Persons charged with socializing that person (parents or guardians) should also be held accountable for the actions of their charge. The perp should be AT LEAST institutionalised to protect the rest of us. Hard cases (ie Damien Echols, Arkansas) should be eliminated, POST HASTE!
2008 Year End Death Penalty Statistics
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
2007 Year End Death Penalty Statistics
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
Thirty-eight States and the Federal government in 2007 had capital statutes.