Stanford v. Kentucky

PETITIONER: Kevin Stanford
LOCATION: Checker Gasoline Station

DOCKET NO.: 87-5765
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Kentucky Supreme Court

CITATION: 492 US 361 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1989

Frederic J. Cowan - Argued the cause for Kentucky
Frank W. Heft, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner Stanford
John M. Morris, III - Argued the cause for Missouri
Nancy A Mckerrow - on behalf of petitioner
Nancy A. McKerrow - Argued the cause for the petitioner Wilkins

Facts of the case

Kevin Stanford in age of 17 years, was condemned in the murder, sodomize, and robbery with his 20-years old accomplice. On date of January 7, 1981 after firstly committing robbery in quantity of 300 packages of cigarettes, two gallons with fuel and some cash on the gas station, they both raped repeatedly and sodomized Barbel Poore who worked here. After that they drove her out to inconspicuous place and shot directly in face and back of the head of the girl for several times.

Under the case brief, the Kentucky juvenile court made conclusion based on the hardness of the crimes and his past criminality that decision should be upheld by the trial for adults of general jurisdiction.

The Kentucky Supreme Court condemned Stanford to 45-years imprisonment and the death penalty. The verdict of jury confirmed the prosecution and refused defendant argument on the constitutional right to treatment. The court explained that the juvenile trial system didn`t apply any relevant treatment for the appellant and that Stanford's age and his right for the rehabilitation were taken into consideration appropriately by the jury.

Case study underlines controversial points that the USA Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for 17-years old offender that was contradicted with the previous judgments in a year before. That was Thompson v. Oklahoma when the Court held the rulings on the impossibility of condemnation of 15-years old offender to the deprivation of life as penalty. That was argued as an non-constitutional and cruel penalty.

Case brief explains that the final decision was revised by the Governor of Kentucky Paul E. Patton who canceled Stanford's death sentence in 2003. Moreover, in 2005 the Supreme Court in case Roper v. Simmons concluded judgements that all juvenile offenders are exempt from the imposition of death.


Does the imposition of the death sentence on convicted capital offenders below the age of 18 years old, violate the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment?

Media for Stanford v. Kentucky

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1989 in Stanford v. Kentucky

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 87-6026, Heath A. Wilkins v. Missouri.

Ms. McKerrow, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Nancy A Mckerrow:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Heath Wilkins, acting pro se, pleaded guilty to having murdered Nancy Allen during a robbery of a liquor store dell in Clay County, Missouri, on July 27, 1985.

At that time heath Wilkins was 16 years old.

Approximately one year later, after a sentencing hearing at which both Heath Wilkins and the prosecuting attorney recommended the sentence of death, Heath was in fact sentenced to death.

His sentence and conviction were affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court on September 15, 1987.

The question raised in this Court is whether or not the imposition of the death penalty on one who committed his or her crime at the age of 16 violates the cruel and unusual clause of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The answer is yes.

Given the well-recognized and fundamental differences between children and adults, the imposition of a death sentence on someone who committed a crime at the age of 16 would always offend our current and evolving standards of decency and would constitute excessive punishment since it would provide no measurable benefit to society.

Under any accepted set of rules or standards, children are not small adults.

While the varying maturity levels of the class of 16-year-olds is presented to the Court in the briefs and the Court may certainly consider that in rendering a decision, for purposes of this argument Petitioner is willing to assume that we are discussing only the most mature 16-year-olds, because even the most mature 16-year-old is still a child in every state in the United States and we as a society treat children differently than we do adults in virtually every area of life.

The people of Missouri have certainly recognized that children are different, and speaking through their elected representatives they have passed more than 80 statutes restricting the rights and responsibilities of children based solely on the dates of their birth.

Thus, in Missouri a 16-year-old child, no matter how mature he or she may be, is ineligible to vote, to serve on a jury, or to control his own business affairs or money.

The people of Missouri have also recognized that children are--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Can they drive in Missouri at 16?

Nancy A Mckerrow:

--Yes, Your Honor, they may.

Harry A. Blackmun:

There's no distinction there?

Nancy A Mckerrow:

No, Your honor.

The people of Missouri have also recognized that children are in need of the kind of care, protection and control that could never be extended to adults.

Thus, in Missouri a 16-year-old, no matter how mature he may be, can be forced to attend school.

If he works, he can be forced to turn his earnings over to a parent or guardian, he can be denied entry into pool halls or other places of public entertainment.

A 16-year-old can be taken into custody for being promiscuous or incorrigible or if he runs away from intolerable living conditions, and, if an adult decides it's in his own best interest, he can be forced to return to those intolerable living conditions.

The people of Missouri have also spoken at least tangentially on the issue of children and the death penalty.

A 16-year-old child in Missouri, no matter how mature he may be, is considered too young and impressionable to witness an execution.

As a plurality of this Court noted in Thompson versus Oklahoma last year, it would be truly ironic if the assumptions we so readily make about children as a class, the assumptions which provide the justification for each of Missouri's 80 age-based statutes, were suddenly unavailable in determining whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment to treat children as if they were adults for purposes of inflicting society's ultimate punishment.

Byron R. White:

Well, what about subjecting them to not the ultimate but to prison as an adult?

Nancy A Mckerrow:

Your Honor, I think the determination that a particular child needs or deserves confinement for lengthy periods of time is something that could be left to the states, but doesn't really address the issue of how young is too young to be executed.

Byron R. White:

Well, I suppose every state will permit children to be treated as an adult for some crimes.

Nancy A Mckerrow:

Yes, Your Honor.