Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Death Penalty for Juveniles under Scrutiny ; Texas Is Scheduled to Execute the Third Person in Four Months for a Crime Committed under Age 18

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Death Penalty for Juveniles under Scrutiny ; Texas Is Scheduled to Execute the Third Person in Four Months for a Crime Committed under Age 18

Article excerpt

In America, teenagers under the age of 18 can't drink, vote, or sit on a jury. The public has come to believe that it takes children time to develop mentally, to mature fully before they can make decisions on their own.

But in many death-penalty states, that reasoning changes if a teenager under the age of 18 commits murder. Prosecutors and victim's families contend that the child knew exactly what he or she was doing, and should be held fully accountable for those actions.

Nowhere is this attitude more apparent than in Texas, where Wednesday the state is scheduled to execute another juvenile offender - the third time in four months. In fact, two-thirds of US juvenile offenders put to death in the past decade have been in Texas, adding a new dimension to debate over the Lone Star State's hard-line tradition of capital punishment.

Renewed focus

This latest execution - which could still be postponed by a last- minute appeal - comes as the nation is paying renewed attention to the death penalty. Recent studies on brain development, public reaction over DNA-based exonerations, and the recent federal ban on executing the mentally ill have all contributed to a growing sense of unease with the current use of the death penalty.

Against this backdrop, views on execution of juveniles vary. Some experts say people are aware of - and should be held accountable for - their deadly actions.

Others foresee a shift in the "national consensus" - a key factor that the US Supreme Court considers when deciding capital- punishment cases.

"We are really in the last days of the juvenile death penalty. It is standing on a few slender reeds, but it's just got to fall," says Victor Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University in Ada who's done extensive research on juvenile murderers.

Here in Texas, experts say it's understandable that the number of executions of juvenile offenders is higher than in other states, because the number of executions overall is higher.

But others contend that Texas is unique when it comes to killing murderers who committed their crimes as juveniles.

"It's not just that Texas is leading the way. It's that Texas is out there by itself," says Professor Streib.

He says while other states may allow executions of juvenile offenders - 22 to be precise - most of them are not actively involved in the process. Some are even backing away from it altogether.

This year, for instance, Indiana upped its minimum age for imposing the death penalty to 18. Montana did so in 1999, and 10 other states have recently introduced bills that would make 18 the legal limit. This amounts to the most legislative attention the issue has received in the past 20 years, says Streib.

But death-penalty advocates say the facts of each case should be considered before passing judgment on the entire system. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.