By a 5-4 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for juvenile criminals as cruel and unusual punishment. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stressed that inexperience should shield youths from the full extent of criminal punishment. ?The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest," Kennedy said
The court has long construed the 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in light of "evolving standards of decency that marked the progress of a maturing society." The Supreme Court had recognized in the 1950s that "evolving standards" ought to be determined by reference to international as well as domestic measures. And in this case, the majority stressed that eliminating the death penalty for juveniles is consistent with international opinion, and is supported by a majority of Americans.
A majority of Americans? Do you think a majority of Americans would have supported the death penalty for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, after they stalked through the halls of Columbine High murdering classmates? What about for DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo? He was 17 years old when he participated in a shooting spree that left ten people dead. Are these the whimsical acts of a minor? Or are they calculated acts of brutality deserving the full extension of criminal punishment? I think a majority of Americans would find it acceptable to punish these juveniles to the full extent of the law. I think they would do so because that?s what these criminals deserve.
Somehow the Supreme Court missed this point. Somehow they failed to realize that making sure that criminals--even juveniles--get what they deserve is a moral imperative. Condemning people for acts they commit is part of having a morality that holds people responsible for their behavior. When the legal system demands that a juvenile take responsibility for committing a capital crime, it is not the legal system that is showing a disregard for the sanctity of life. Rather, it is the criminal who showed disregard for the sanctity of his own life when he knowingly chose to commit a crime serious enough to warrant the death penalty.
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