Capital Punishment And Minors The death penalty is utilized as an optimistic view to alleviate much of what is morally, and criminally wrong with our society. Yet in reality, capital punishment does nothing to improve Americas justice system by allegedly acting as a deterrent to the criminals. Nevertheless, Americans continue to execute adults and children on dubious principles. The execution of children is particularly outrageous. International and Federal standards sanction that children are exempt from the death penalty; not in order to grant absolution for their crimes, or to disparage the suffering of the victims family, but in recognition of their immaturity and potential for rehabilitation. The cases of juvenile offenders on Americas death row continue to reflect more than just the specific concerns raised by their immaturity at the time of the offense, but represent the more important justification for a punishment that is antiquated. A closer look at capital punishment reveals problems that consist of a lack of ethics regarding a childs life, a possible enormous risk of wrongful conviction, and a staggering amount of money spent that does not accomplish any means of deterring others from committing murder. Foremost, in considering the appropriateness of capital punishment is the importance of understanding the federal laws, state laws, and an importance of international standards.
Maryland law and federal law deliberated that those under 18 are not adequately mature enough to make adult decisions. Hence, those under 18 are not able to vote, they cannot legally drink, nor are they able to join the armed forces. By this reasoning, a juvenile whom the nation does not trust to make adult decisions should not be executed for choosing to perform the immoral act of murder. The Supreme Court arrived at its 1988 decision that, in effect, acknowledged the rationale of cases involving minors; that there is an assumption that adolescents are too young to understand the consequences of their actions, and set the minimum age at 16 in the landmark case Thompson vs. Oklahoma. Nevertheless, Melissa Sickmund, a senior research associate at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, believes that the minimum age is a function of the political landscape, “If the Supreme Court were to consider the 1988 case now it would have to take into account the ever more popular tendency of the states to try minors as adults” (Butcher 4). Likewise, International Standards prohibit the death penalty against juvenile offenders, and organizations such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, American Covenant on Human Rights, and Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty agree that, “Persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime shall not be sentenced to death” (qtd.
in Amnesty Internationals Campaign 2) and have been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly to help ensure universal ethical treatment of children. According to Amnesty International, the United States of America has carried out more documented executions of Juvenile offenders than any other country. Ironically, the majority of these offenders that have been executed since 1990 were of serious or mental deprivation. These adolescents lifestyles consisted of a regular use of drugs and alcohol, and the child held a considerably lower than average intelligence. Many offenders had some type of brain damage, and most had poor or inexperienced legal counsel; which resulted in a loss of important information and incompetent representation.
Unfortunately, even in America we continue to practice the barbaric execution of children, continue to ignore international standards, and sadly there are inherent problems because it does not deter crime. Kevin Hughes, a diagnosed schizophrenic, provides a strong case study of mitigating circumstances that were over looked in order to execute a minor. Sixteen year-old Hughes, strangled and raped another child in March 1979. His relatives testified that Hughes suffered from, “. .
.extreme mood swings, hear[d] voices, and [would] often be out of touch with reality. His elder brother say that Kevin believed that he had magical powers, and that there was some kind of magic that protected him. This was especially strange to listen to, because it was obvious from all the bad things he went through that nothing had ever protected him” (Amnesty International Report 25). Furthermore, Hughes was diagnosed as suffering from brain damage as a result of childhood abuse and had a subaverage IQ. In this case, the jury was not properly instructed on how to review Hughes case, and the jury never heard evidence of Hughes abuse and neglect in his childhood or his mental illness. Hughes was sentenced to death in March of 1981, and hopefully an appeal will ensure for clemency; in order for better mental health care for a boy who should not be sentenced to death, but should be treated in a facility that can help his state of mind. Psychologically, it is impossible to use the death penalty as a deterrent, because those with no cognitive moral capacity are unable to understand its use as a punishment.
According to Ernest van den Haag, “Capital punishment is regarded as unjust because it may lead to the execution of the innocents, or because the guilty poor (or disadvantaged) are more likely to be executed than the guilty rich” (Capital Punishment: A Reader 48). In considering the claim of injustice by reason of innocence, a convicted man that is found guilty, who is innocent, and if sentenced to be executed, the penalty cannot be reversed. With this knowledge, a human being should not be morally able to put a child to death when alternatives such as life in prison can provide the same justice at a lower cost to America. This would serve as a deterrent, inasmuch as those in prison could be rehabilitated. Likewise, the child would not be able to become a martyr, and thus, his peers and community could see him in prison for life; which is an obvious deterrent.
The death penalty is unlike all other sentences, because it is irreversible. Marietta Jaeger, whose seven-year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped, and murdered believes that the death penalty is wrong, “I say there is no amount of retaliatory deaths that would compensate to me the inestimable value of my daughters life, nor would they restore her to my arms or keep others from committing murder. To say that the death of any person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims” (qtd. Amnesty Internationals Campaign 12). Therefore, no notion of capital punishment, as a deterrent, can be applied to children, inasmuch as the result can be gained by a child serving a life sentence, with no possibility for parole. Taking a life for another life solves nothing, except to guarantee a tremendous expense to the state.
According to Dieter, across the country, there are less police working, prisoners are being released early, the courts are overburdened, crime continues to increase, and the “economic recession has caused cutbacks in the backbone of the criminal justice system” (Dieter 1). Dieter cites that the recession has caused Florida a budget crisis that resulted in the early release of 3,000 prisoners; Texas prisoners are only serving 20% of their time and rearrests are prevalent; Georgia has laid off 900 correctional personnel, and New Jersey has had to dismiss 500 police officers. Nevertheless, these states, and many others, amazingly continues to place money into the death penalty with no consequent reduction in crime. The higher cost to the state, is due to the fact that t …