Death penalty for juveniles has for a been a controversial subject in the past years with some courts ruling that criminal offender who are under the age of 18 years should not be subjected to death penalty since they are too young thus do not understand the degree of their actions hence such a penalty is considered cruel and unusual (Dworaczyk para 2).
People under the age of 18 years are usually considered to be immature and impulse drive who act most often without considering the magnitude of their actions leave alone their consequences. They should therefore be classified in the same category as the mentally retarded persons which would in turn subjects them to the same penalty for any criminal offences (Geraghty pp 3). However, some courts feel that these should not make the juveniles be unaccountable for their actions.
Scientist studying human development, maturity and behavior argue that though maturity may come later in life, the instincts and values of what is generally considered to be right and wrong are developed in the early stages of life and if that be the case, then the juveniles know the implications of their actions and as such they should be held liable for their actions (Dworaczyk para 4).
Age factor a determining factor? The age limit as to when a person should be liable for his/her actions has been a major issue in the past with some feeling that from the age of 16 a person can be charged for a criminal offence and be awarded a death penalty while others think that at the age 18 is when a person is considered mature to receive a death penalty.
The age issue as to when a juvenile should be subjected to death penalty has divide the United States for example with some states imposing the penalty to young offenders who are 16 years of age while other states have set the age limit at 17 or 18 years. This differences has been made possible due to the federal form of government that operates in the united states. Death penalties on juveniles differ in different states in the united states but ranges between 16 and 18 years.
This was decided by the supreme court of the united states (Geraghty pp 37). Public opinion has had its stake on juvenile’s death penalty issue. Studies show that a higher percentage of the United States citizens do not approve of juvenile prosecution citing the tender age of the offenders and lack of any future threat to the public, which has in turn affected the courts ruling on such offences.
It has also been found out that though most courts award death penalties to juveniles, the penalties are rarely executed and if they are, only a small percentage of the verdict is ever carried out. Some courts for example, in Texas however, are more lenient on the juries. They have allowed criminal offences to be decided depending on their magnitude and the underlying issues surrounding the particular crimes. The juries are allowed to decide the cases depending on its nature and award penalties as they deem appropriate.
However, with the elimination of juvenile death penalties, special attention should be drawn to series of sniper attacks as observed by Warren Richey, referring to Malvos case, who had shot eleven people in ten days and when asked he said he just wanted to kill them. Thou this should have earned him a death penalty, judges only awarded him a life sentence since he was only 17 years when he committed the offences.
Age has always been used as a tool to reduce the penalty awarded and most often is a deciding factor in ruling capital offences involving juveniles no matter how serious the offence may seem. Juvenile death penalty has been seen as being cruel, unusual and inappropriate hence have not been implemented even when awarded. It is argued that most of the young persons under the age of 18 are deemed to be driven by peer pressure and are thus not in a position to make rational decisions or even foresee the consequences of their ill-calculated actions.
Also, most juvenile offenders have often been discovered to have suffered violence in their lives which they are not well able to deal with and that’s why they project the same to their accusers(Richey para. 7). Thus, subjecting such a person to death penalty would be unfair and cruel. It has also been argued that juvenile understanding and reasoning are at different maturity levels with that of the adults and as such they should not be subjected to the same penalties as their counterparts when they are guilty of similar offences.
This misconception of the age factor has led some juveniles undertaking or committing criminal offences basing their argument on the notion that they are not eligible to death penalty as was the case of Mr. Simmons who, when planning the offence had confided in his friends that the law was clear that he would not be awarded a death penalty if he was found out since he was only 17 years old.
He was later convicted to a death penalty (Richey para. 7). The debate and subsequent laws against death penalty on juvenile has led to more juveniles been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for criminal offences since they believe that they are immune to the death penalty and as a result, moral degradation and criminal cases among the young adults has been on rise (Duffee pp 106).
While dealing with a juveniles criminal or capital offences however, other factors should be put into consideration other than the age factor alone to ensure that the verdict passed is fair and just. The ruling court or juries should ensure that the punishment to be awarded should not exceed or even be far less than the crime which has been committed. The penalty awarded should thus be equitable with the offence committed(Duffee pp 133).
The jury should also consider the prevailing conditions and standards when the offence was done rather than dwelling alone on what used to happen earlier in similar situations at an earlier generation. Thus, the verdict should take into consideration the passage of time between when a particular law was made and the time the offence was committed. This is to ensure that the verdict is consistent with the current state of affairs.
Also, since different states has had different rulings on matters concerning death penalties on juveniles, the jury should take this into account and also look into the different laws that have been passed by the state legislatures and incorporate them in their ruling. This is to ensure that all juveniles convicted of similar offences are charged or subjected to the same penalties thus ensuring fairness(Duffee pp 177)..
The frequency of certain convictions and implementation of the verdict made should also be put into consideration by the deciding juries. With the increased fundamental rights awareness and the coming up of professional organizations looking into human development and maturity, they will influence the jury’s decision thus their views should be incorporated in the jury’s decisions and also the views of other experts involved in human development and behaviors and all other interest groups.
However, the juries should not rely only on this information alone. They should also conduct their own investigation to ensure that the verdict is consistent with their own obligation and which should be to protect the citizens and to ensure that the verdict serves the right purpose. The intention of the penalty awarded should be to ensure that such offences are not repeated and by others.
The jury should also consider the national views and interests as well as the international opinions which may affect or even influence the juries verdict. Conclusion In conclusion, thou death penalty is the most effective tool used by most juries to ensure that they accomplish their intention of ensuring that others offenders are deterred and criminal offences are not repeated, it should only be used on special and extreme cases where the offender is a threat to the general safety of the citizens.
So far, there has not been any universal agreement on whether death penalty should be awarded to juveniles or not. Some countries advocates for it for different reasons some of which being to instill fear to other young persons while other countries have adamantly refused to adopt the system terming it as inhuman and inappropriate. However, either for a juvenile or an adult, death penalty should only be awarded as the last available option otherwise should not be awarded (Gonzalez para 7).