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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Minors should not be sentenced to death

The Supreme Court's decision yesterday to outlaw the death penalty for juveniles is important because it affirms that minors must not be held in equal legal status to adults. The death penalty is an extreme form of punishment and should be used as a last resort. Prohibiting sentencing minors to death underlines the severity of the death penalty, and ensures that minors are not held responsible for crimes beyond their responsibility.

Before yesterday, only the United States and Somalia allowed teenage executions, according to the New York Times. The decision to keep the death penalty in practice, particularly as applied to teens, has reflected poorly and caused conflict between the United States and Europe. Supreme Court decisions should not be decided on how they will be received internationally, but this outcome will certainly help President Bush's efforts to heal the rift between the United States and Europe.

Minors are not expected to vote, serve on juries, or sign contracts because they are not considered mature enough to handle the corresponding responsibilities. Yesterday's ruling was based on the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court argued that scientific and sociological studies prove that teenagers are not as mature and have not developed an adult sense of responsibility. Minors are also more prone to negative influences and, most importantly, "the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult." This is why minors are legally different than adults in the eyes of the law, and this must apply to the death penalty.

Minors who commit violent crimes should be held responsible for their actions. They should not, however, be held to the same standards as adults. Many states allow, and in a few circumstances require, minors as young as 14 to be tried as adults, particularly if they are charged with murder. Adult status should not only be placed on minors when they have committed a serious crime. It is widely accepted that 16 year olds are uniformly not mature enough to vote. Why are they mature enough to be sentenced to death?

There is no national consensus as to when the death penalty should be applied or when children should be tried as adults. Adhering to the legally accepted guideline that adulthood begins at 18 gives states a basis to work from and protects minors, who are not mature enough to be considered adults. The Supreme Court's decision to limit the death penalty to adults takes the extreme nature of the punishment into account and proves that it should only be used to those who are completely aware of their actions. Thus, the legally accepted guideline of adulthood beginning at 18 should be adopted, particularly with a punishment as dire as the death penalty.

A majority of Americans support the death penalty, but it is still a highly contentious issue. Until a consensus is reached, its use must be limited to adults who are not mentally retarded. This way, instead of debating whether teens should be sentenced to death, the U.S. can have a debate over the nature of the death penalty itself.