Friday, March 04, 2005

WHAT'S THE LAW GOT TO DO WITH IT

The lead editorial in today's Bee states that "wisely and compassionately ruled that the execution of defendants who were 17 and younger when they committed capital crimes is a violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment." If the editorial writers at the Bee had a modicum of understanding of constitutional law, they would understand that the March 1 decision in Roper v. Simmons is probably one of the worst legal reasoned decision in a long time. I believe the death penalty should be applied to juveniles (ages 16 to 18) should be applied more sparingly than adults, but the Court's decision is based on utter nonsense.

The Bee tries to draw a stark contrast between the rights of juveniles and the death penalty in the initial sentences by stating that juveniles can't vote or drink, cannot sit on juries, are too immature to see certain movies, and cannot even smoke in some states. Why then, the Bee impliedly asks, should juveniles be put to death. There is absolutely no relevance and analogical significance of the issue in the Roper case with whether a person is mature enough to handle voting, drinking, attending certain movies, or any other right.

As explained by Justice Scalia in the case of Stanford v. Kentucky:

[Those rules] do not represent a social judgment that all persons under the designated ages are not responsible enough to drive, to drink, or to vote, but at most a judgment that the vast majority are not. These laws set the appropriate ages for the operation of a system that makes its determinations in gross, and that does not conduct individualized maturity tests for each driver, drinker, or voter. The criminal justice system, however, does provide individualized testing. In the realm of capital punishment in particular, individualized consideration [is] a constitutional requirement. . . ."

Scalia stated in the Roper case that "it is absurd to think that one must be mature enough to drive carefully, to drink responsibly, or to vote intelligently, in order to be mature enough to understand that murdering another human being is profoundly wrong, and to conform one’s conduct to that most minimal of all civilized standards."

The Bee shows that it does not understand the court's ruling when it states the court concluded "that those under 18 lacked the maturity to be held fully culpable for their crimes, the court said they should not be subject to the death penalty." This is not what the court stated. The majority recognized that individuals under 18 could be just as mature as adults who warrant the death penalty. The Court stated "The qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18. By the same token, some under 18 have already attained a level of maturity some adults will never reach. . . . however, a line must be drawn."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor countered this by stating in her dissent the following:

Adolescents as a class are undoubtedly less mature, and therefore less culpable for their misconduct, than adults. But the Court has adduced no evidence impeaching the seemingly reasonable conclusion reached by many state legislatures: that at least some 17-year-old murderers are sufficiently mature to deserve the death penalty in an appropriate case. . . . Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of psychological development.

The Bee misstates the facts when it asserts in its editorial that "Thirty states have outlawed the death penalty for juveniles." In fact, 18 states have outlawed the death penalty for juveniles. The Bee adds to this 12 states that have outright banned the death penalty. The Bee just simply asserts a falsehood.

Considering the fact that the Bee editorial writers exhibited such a lame understanding of constitutional jurisprudence, it is very amusing that they opined that Justice Kennedy's ruling as "right" when he "acknowledge[d] the overwhelming weight of international opinion." There is a good discussion here about one of the problems with the court's reasoning at the New Republic online. Can read more about it here and here (see comments also).

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