Execution Of Juveniles

Adult Punishment and Juvenile Justice
Day after day in this country there is a debate going
on about the death penalty and whether we as people have the
right to decide the fate of another persons life. When we
examine this issue we usually consider those we are arguing
about to be older men and women who are more than likely
hardened criminals with rap sheets longer than the height we
stand (Farley & Willwerth, 1998). They have made a career of
crime, committing it rather than studying it, and somewhere
along the line a jury of their peers decided enough was
enough. They were handed down the most severe and most
final punishment of them all, death. Behind all of the
controversy that this issue raises lies a different group of
people that are not so often brought into the lime light,
juveniles. This proposes a problem entangled with another;
if we do decide to carry out death sentences, what is the
minimum age limit? Can we electrocute, lethally inject, or
gas any one who commits a crime that is considered capital?
In this paper the issue of capital punishment for
juveniles will be discussed, basically laying out a
comprehensive look at the matter. First we will briefly
look at the history of both juvenile justice and the history
of the death penalty in regards to juveniles. Secondly we
will take a short look at the two major court cases that
dealt with this issue in the United States. Next this paper
will present the factual statistics of the death penalty for
juveniles and also take a look at our country’s stance on
the issue in the international arena. We will then spend a
short time looking at some views on the juvenile death
penalty, reasons for the death penalty itself, and the
arguments for and against the death penalty for juveniles.
Lastly we will conclude with a few thoughts about the issue
and the implications that we might have to consider.
The history of the death penalty being imposed on
juveniles spans all the way back to almost the beginning of
our country. In 1642, Thomas Graunger of Plymouth Colony,
Massachusetts, was the first juvenile, to be sentenced to
death and executed in our country for a crime that he
committed (Executions, 2000). Since the start of capital
punishment (or the recording thereof) in 1608, there has
been around 19,200 executions in the United States of all
ages. Of that total number, experts believe approximately
356 of them were juvenile executions, meaning that the crime
that the individual was sentenced for took place before the
offender was eighteen years of age (Gonnerman, 2000). This
accounts for about 1.8% of all executions from the start of
capital punishment to present (Executions, 2000). Since
1973 there has been 196 death sentences handed out to
juveniles and seventeen of those have ended in actual
execution (Streib, 2000). Table 1 lists those seventeen
individuals that have been executed since 1973, their date
and place of execution, their race, and their age both when
they committed their crime and when they were executed.
The juvenile justice system was born in 1899 at which
time it was recognized as separate from the regular justice
system that dealt with adult offenders (Ricotta, 1988). At
the start, the stated objectives of the juvenile justice
system was “...to provide measures of guidance and
rehabilitation for the child and protection for society, not
to fix criminal responsibility, guilt, and punishment”
(Ricotta, 1988). By the stated objectives it would seem as
though rehabilitation would be one of the most important
goals of the juvenile system. So how are we able to decide
now that a teenager is past the point of rehabilitation and
deserves the final punishment? Or does the obligation to
“protect society” become more overwhelming and leave us with
no other option but to put someone to death? These are just
a few questions that one might ask about our present goals
in comparison to the initial goals that were established
from the start. Next we will discuss the two pivotal court
cases that set the precedent for our current juvenile death
penalty statutes.
William Wayne Thompson, only fifteen years of age, and
three older persons were all found guilty of first degree
murder back in December of 1983. He was convicted of
murdering his brother-in-law in a most “heinous, atrocious,
and cruel” (Ricotta, 1988) way. After the district court
decided that their was “no reasonable prospects for
rehabilitation” (Ricotta, 1988) it was decided that he would
be tried as an adult. The Supreme Court of the United
States had to decide whether he could then be subject to
adult punishment which brought