The question of judicial measures for juvenile offenders has always elicited mixed reactions on all spheres of the American justice system. While there exists judicial courts to handle criminal prosecutions against minors, these measures are usually applicable to lesser criminal charges. In cases where older juveniles are charged with capital offences like robbery with violence, homicides, most state attorneys will ask the court to try the offenders like adults. Most states have enacted legislations to provide for adult trials for minors who are deemed adult enough to stand trial in an adult court jurisdiction.
Even for those without such legislations, the discretion is always left at the hands of the relevant district attorneys to determine the fate of such minor offenders. The question that matter is not the legal foundation, but the moral and psychological basis for such trial. The immaturity of the offenders coupled with the chance of wrongful execution of the minor based on evidenced extracted through coercion, intimidations makes the case for death penalty for the juvenile offenders untenable, no matter what kind of offence they are suspected of committing.
Just like the US Supreme Court held that conviction and hanging of mentally retarded people is a violation of their constitutional rights (Stanford v. Kentucky, 1989) due to disproportional nature of the punishment when compared to their culpability, so should such reasoning be applied to the capital offence juveniles. Psychologically, a person under the age of 18 years is considered not fully developed both in mind and in brain. Therefore their judgment faculty may still be underdeveloped to be held culpable for such crimes even if they are incriminatingly found guilty.
According to Nobel Lawrence, research has found no evidence that trying minors in adult courts has resulted in decreased juvenile crime rate and it is therefore self defeating when such actions are taken. Such practice only increase rate of recidivism (2009). The issue of race tension and associated racism has made such trials look unfair. Studies and research have found out that minority youths are disproportionately tried as adults based on their skin color. Most African American minors have more often than not, found themselves in adult docks.
The “Youth Crime/Adult Time” report found that in 9 out of 10 felony charges, African American are tried as adults. While determining the effectiveness of the death sentence to the minors, the Missouri’s Supreme Court in the matters of Simmons v Roper (2004), the court upheld that the executions of persons charged with homicides before their 18 birthday is unconstitutional. The court based its verdict on immaturity and the consequent reduced culpability of the offenders, the special risk of wrongful execution based on false confession.
The court also cited the trends in other states’ judicial procedures against convicted minors where courts rarely implement the death penalties even in jurisdictions where it is legal. On March 1, 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court, confirming the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision, voted 5-4 and affirmed the ruling in Simmons v Roper. The U S Supreme Court cited social science evidence of the reduced culpability of juveniles and the declining use of juvenile death penalty (Fagan & West, 2005).
While the US constitution has been silent on matters of juvenile death penalties, state legislatures have take lead role in enacting statues that prohibit such penalties. These include Wyoming 2004, Kansas 1994, New York 1995, Indiana 2002, Montana 1999, South Dakota 2004 (Fagan & West, 2005). This represents advances in elimination of death sentences in most trials of juvenile offenders in the US. The societal perception of viability of the death sentence for juvenile offenders is trending across the political divide.
Currently, it is no longer the liberal Americans that view such juvenile trials as unconstitutional, but even the most conservatives have come round to accept this view. The general societal consensus has been the basis for the Supreme Court’s citation in upholding such bans. While most states have not enacted such legislations, capital offence charges involving minors are normally directed to the appropriate juvenile courts. Therefore the arguments for subjecting minors to full adult trials in cases involving capital punishments have been exhausted.
It must be added that in developed justice and legal systems of Western Europe, there is no room for such practices. The US should therefore equate with its developed partners by totally eliminating such law by de jure. The de facto state of current laws is that they are subject to different interpretations and thus this may give chance to violate them. The harrowing experience of a minor on a death row is not only archaic but also barbaric.
Restorative justice has time and again been used just before sentencing takes place. These programs are used when a plea of guilty has been reached. The prosecuting attorney enters in agreement with the court concerning the accused and the accused is given a chance to make final submissions. When the sentence is finally delivered, it is usually a reparative sentence that gives the guilty person lesser sentence. When diversion is involved, there is the avoidance of the prison or penitentiary institution.