Black Robes and Betrayal; When Less Than 50 Percent Is a Consensus

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 2, 2005 | Go to article overview

Black Robes and Betrayal; When Less Than 50 Percent Is a Consensus


Byline: Tony Blankley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck again - this time overturning by a 5-4 decision, all statutes that apply the death sentence to 16- and 17-year-old murderers.

As a former prosecutor, I am convinced that from time to time juries find before them 16- or 17-year-old defendants who understand full well the vicious nature of their murders, and deserve - after receiving the full panoply of due process - to be fried, gassed, hanged, shot, injected or otherwise sent promptly to Hell.

Even if you are of a sympathetic nature and believe that the little 17-year-old darlings deserve to be rehabilitated, you might still find this Supreme Court opinion stomach turning for its sheer disdain of logic, public attitudes and American law.

But first: The crime, as described yesterday by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Roper v. Simmons, writing for the majority: "At the age of 17, when he was still a junior in high school, Christopher Simmons ... committed murder ... There is little doubt that Simmons was the instigator of the crime. Before its commission Simmons said he wanted to murder someone. In chilling, callous terms he talked about his plan with his friends ... Simmons proposed to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and throwing the victim off a bridge. Simmons assured his friends they could 'getaway with it' because they were minors." A few hours later he proceeded to do just that, breaking into a home, covering the victim's head in a towel, wrapping her up in duct tape and tying her hands and legs together with electrical wire. Then he drove her to a bridge and threw her off into the water, where helpless, she drowned.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether this presented a case of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to our Constitution. No, the court was not concerned with whether being assaulted in your home, wrapped in a towel, duct tape and electrical wire and thrown off a bridge was cruel and unusual punishment. That's OK. The court is only concerned with whether it was cruel and unusual to execute the strapping 17-year-old murderer who did it.

The gist of the majority's analysis is that whether the crime is constitutionally "unusual" depends on whether "evolving standards of decency" have reached the point in our history when such punishment has been clearly rejected by society.

It happens that only 15 years ago the Supreme Court found that the kind of statute in question was constitutional. But, rather than overturning that case, the court yesterday found that in the last 15 years a national consensus against such punishment had emerged.

The majority based that conclusion on the fact that "18 states - or 47 percent of states that permit capital punishment - now have legislation prohibiting the execution of offenders under 18," and four of those states have adopted such legislation since the Supreme Court's ruling of 15 years ago. …

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Black Robes and Betrayal; When Less Than 50 Percent Is a Consensus
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