Earlier this year the Supreme Court of the United States handed down arguably one their most important, yet controversial decisions regarding juvenile law. In the case Roper v Simmons (2005), a narrow 5-4 decision, overturned the United States practice of allowing capital punishment for juvenile offenders.
Mitigating factors must be considered when examining the decision of the Supreme Court whenever they overturn previous courts decisions. This issue becomes more complex in the Juvenile System because of the relative infancy of this aspect of the American judicial system.
In addition to analyzing the history of the Juvenile justice system, one must take into account previous case law that dealt with this specific issue. While capital punishment for juveniles has been permitted in America as far back as 1642, the courts did not rule on this issue until the mid-late 1980's. Furthermore, as recent as 1989, the Supreme Court upheld states rights to impose capital punishment against persons under the age of eighteen.
What changed in about a fifteen year time period for the highest court in the land to dramatically change their stance on such an important issue?
This paper will examine the history of the Juvenile Court system and its intended purposes, the history of capital punishment being used against minors, court decisions both in limiting capital punishment for youthful offenders, as well as upholding states rights to sentence juveniles to death. Most importantly, we will analyze possible factors that contributed to the decision of Roper v Simmons such as the international community's opposition of the juvenile death penalty and the majority consensus of the American public in outlawing this practice.
Part I: History of the Juvenile Justice System
The Juvenile Justice system came about as a direct consequence of the American Industrial Revolution . The change from an agricultural...