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Background – The Constitutionality of the Juvenile Death Penalty

(Updated as of February 12, 2004)

On August 26, 2003, in Simmons v. Roper, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders in the state of Missouri violates evolving standards of decency and is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" of the US Constitution.  The State appealed to the US Supreme Court.  On January 26, 2004 the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Simmons v. Roper and agreed to consider the constitutionality of the death penalty as applied to juvenile offenders.

Juveniles and the Death Penalty:  US Context & Statistics

The Missouri Supreme Court has vacated the death sentence of Christopher Simmons, holding that the execution of juvenile offenders violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Please note that for the purposes of this piece Missouri will be considered a state which allows for the execution of juveniles and correspondingly the two juveniles under sentence of death in Missouri will be included in the statistics below, until the US Supreme Court reaches a decision.

Out of the 50 US states, 38 allow for capital punishment, along with the military and federal government.  Twelve states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) prohibit the use of the death penalty.

Of the 38 states which allow the punishment, 16 of those, along with the US Government and the military prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders. The 16 states are as follows: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington.

Twenty-two states currently allow for the execution of juveniles.  Please note, as stated above, Missouri is included in this number. Of the 22 however, 15 have not executed juvenile offenders since re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.  In fact only 7 States have executed juveniles since 1976: Texas (13) Virginia (3)  Oklahoma(2)  Georgia(1)  Louisiana(1) Missouri (1)  South Carolina(1).  Further, 9 States out of the 22, currently do not have juveniles on death row:  Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.  Please click here for a table of state statistics.

Since re-instatement, 22 juveniles have been executed.  For further details and names of those executed please click here.

As of February 2004, there are currently 82 juvenile offenders, including Christopher Simmons, on death row within the US in 13 States: Texas (28), Alabama (14), Arizona (6) Louisiana (7), Mississippi (5), North Carolina (5), Florida (4), Pennsylvania (4), South Carolina (4), Georgia (2), Missouri (2), Nevada (1) and Virginia (1).  For further details, please click here.

Four of these juveniles are currently facing execution dates in 2004.  It is anticipated that these will be stayed pending a USSC decision in Simmons.

Upcoming Juvenile Executions

Mauro Bazzara, a Latino male, was 17 years of age when he participated in the robbery and murder of 73-year-old Violrie Nelson, on June 14, 1989. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death. An execution date has been set for June 29, 2004.

Edward Capetillo, a Latino male, was 17 years of age at the time of his arrest for the murder of Kimberly Williamson, 20, on January 16, 1995. Prior to the crime, Capetillo had no previous criminal record. He was later found guilty and sentenced to death. An execution date has been set for March 30, 2004.

State District Judge William Harmon denied a request from Capetillo's attorney that the execution be postponed pending the US Supreme Court's decision in Simmons.

For further details on Edward Capetillo, please click here.

Efrain Perez, a Latino male, was 17 years of age when he participated in the gang rape and murder of Jennifer Ertman, 14, (white) and Elizabeth Pena, 16, (Latina) in Harris County, Texas on June 24, 1993.  He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death on September 22, 1994. An execution date has been set for June 23, 2004.

Raul Villareal, a Latino male, was 17 years of age when he participated in the gang rape and murder of Jennifer Ertman, 14, (white) and Elizabeth Pena, 16, (Latina) in Harris County, Texas on June 24, 1993.  He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death on September 22, 1994. An execution date has been set for June 24, 2004.  

Anzel Jones, an African American male, was 17 years old when he was arrested in May 1995 for the murder of Sherry Jones. On May 2, 1995, Anzel Jones broke into the Texas home of Sherry Jones (no relationship) and her mother, Edith. While Edith Jones was locked in the bedroom, Anzel Jones apparently stabbed Sherry Jones in the chest, and cut her throat (Anzel Jones was possibly accompanied by another man). As Edith Jones came out of the bedroom, Anzel Jones sexually assaulted her and cut her throat. The house was then set on fire, but Edith Jones survived and testified against Anzel Jones. Edith's daughter, Sherry Jones, died. Anzel Jones was charged with capital murder on June 27, 1995. He was convicted as charged and sentenced to death on June 3, 1996. An execution date has been set for April 29, 2004.

  • The US Supreme Court granted Anzel Jones a stay pending a decision in Simmons.

For further details on Anzel Jones, please click here.

US Supreme Court: Constitutionality of the Juvenile Death Penalty

In 1988 the US Supreme Court in Thompson v Oklahoma held that it constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" to execute persons who were under 16 years of age at the time of the offense and thus was prohibited by the Eight Amendment of the US Constitution. Thompson was 15 years old when he actively participated in a brutal murder, but the District Attorney filed a statutory petition to have him tried as an adult, which the trial court granted. Thompson was then convicted and sentenced to death, a decision the Court of Criminal appeals of Oklahoma affirmed. The case was accepted by the US Supreme Court, which then determined that the execution of offenders younger than 16 years of age at the time of the crime was unconstitutional because it violates the Eight Amendment of the Constitution.

One year later, in Stanford v Kentucky, the US Supreme Court found that there was not a national consensus against the execution of those aged 16 or 17 at the time of the offense and that such executions were thus constitutional.

In 2002, the US Supreme Court was again faced with the opportunity to revisit the issue in the cases of Kevin Stanford and Toronto Patterson, but declined to do so. Nonetheless, unprecedented dissents in both cases indicated that the juvenile death penalty should be re-examined at the earliest opportunity.  For the dissent in Patterson please click here and for the dissent in Re Kevin Stanford please click here.  Yet, when the occasion once more arose to review the matter, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case of Scott Hain, without comment. Scott Hain was then executed on 3 April, 2003, becoming the twenty-second juvenile in the US to be executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.

On August 26, 2003, however, in Simmons v. Roper, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders in the state of Missouri violates evolving standards of decency and is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" of the US Constitution.  The State appealed to the US Supreme Court.  On January 26, 2004 the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Simmons v. Roper and agreed to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty as applied to juvenile offenders.

Christopher Simmons: Facts of the Case

Christopher Simmons was 17 years of age at the time of his arrest for the September 9, 1993 murder of Shirley Crook. Crook's body was found in the Meramec River in St. Louis County, Missouri. She had been tied with electric cable, leather straps and duct tape, had bruises on her body and fractured ribs. The medical examiner determined the cause of her death was drowning. Prior to the crime, Simmons had no previous criminal record. The jury, which sentenced Simmons, was never adequately informed of Simmons' social history or the possible effects on his behavior, including his abusive childhood, possible mental illness and drug dependency. An execution date was scheduled for June 2002, however this was stayed following Simmons' application for writ of habeas corpus to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Missouri Supreme Court granted the writ on August 26, 2003 holding the execution of juveniles to violate the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

For further information on Christopher Simmons, please click here.

Simmons v. Roper: Decision Summary

Rationale

In reaching its decision in Simmons, the Missouri Supreme Court followed the approach taken by the US Supreme Court in Atkins v Virginia, 536 US 304 (2002) which held that a national consensus had evolved against the execution of those with mental retardation and thus such executions violated the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment". Similarly, in adopting this approach the Missouri Supreme Court held that a national consensus had developed against the execution of juveniles. In following the approach in Atkins, the Missouri Supreme Court examined: (i) legislative action; (ii) frequency of imposition of capital punishment on juveniles and the frequency with which the sentence is actually carried out; (iii) national and international opinion; and (iv) an independent examination of whether the death penalty as applied to juveniles violates evolving standards of decency and hence is barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

(i) Legislative Action

The Court noted that at the time of Stanford 11 states banned the execution of juvenile offenders. Since Stanford, five more states have banned such executions. States have moved consistently in the direction of opposition to the juvenile death penalty. This indicates that the standard of decency has evolved since Stanford; not a single State had lowered the execution from 18 to 17 or 16 during this time; and many States have considered legislation to raise the minimum age to 18.

(ii) Infrequency of Imposition of the Death Penalty

The Court noted that despite 22 States allowing the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles only 7, including Missouri, have actually executed offenders since reinstatement in 1976 and only three states, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma since 1993. The Court found of particular significance the fact that only 22 juvenile offenders have been executed since re-instatement in 1976. Correspondingly, the Court found the juvenile death penalty to be "so truly unusual that its potential application is more hypothetical than real."

(iii) National and International Opinion

Significantly, the Court cited international law prohibiting the execution of juveniles. This included specifically Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties and agreements. Alongside international law the Court looked to the views of the international community and worldwide imposition of the juvenile death penalty. In addition the Court found the opposition of domestic social, professional and religious groups to confirm the national consensus against the execution of juvenile offenders.

(iv) Independent Examination

Finally, the Court examined whether the death penalty was warranted for juvenile offenders in regard to fulfilling the primary social purposes of the punishment: retribution and deterrence. Comparing juvenile offenders to those with mental retardation, the Court found neither purpose to be furthered. The Court acknowledged the lesser culpability and reasoning ability of juvenile offenders and also the unusual and infrequent imposition of the death penalty on juveniles in reaching this decision.

Concurring Opinion of Judge Michael A. Wolff

Justice Wolff concurred in the ruling but additionally held that if the US Supreme Court disagrees with the holding, then a presumption should be adopted that juvenile offenders lack the capacity or maturity to be eligible for the death penalty. The Prosecution would then have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile offender possessed the requisite capacity. Justice Wolff asserted that this presumption would not be based upon the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but instead a state-law interpretation of the statute that requires age to be a factor in capital sentencing.

Dissenting Opinion of Justices Price Jr., Benton and Limbaugh

The dissenting opinion was authored by Justice Price, Jr. with Justices Benton and Limbaugh concurring. The justices found that there was neither a "historical or modern societal consensus forbidding the imposition of capital punishment on" those under 18 years of age at the time of the offense. Further, noting the US Supreme Court decision in Stanford v Kentucky and its subsequent refusal to readdress the issue despite recent opportunities to do so (for example the cases of Scott Hain and Toronto Patterson), the Justices held that the Missouri Supreme Court lacked authority to overrule existing US Supreme Court precedent. Instead the Justices argued that "it is the prerogative of the Supreme Court of the United States, and its alone, to overrule one of its decisions" and that the "proper venue for Simmons to seek relief" is in the US Supreme Court.

Atkins v. Virginia

For a summary of the decision in Atkins, please click here.  For an overview of the implications of the Atkins decision on the constitutionality of the juvenile death penalty, please click here.

Missouri Supreme Court: Background Information

The 4-3 split in the decision is of particular significance; the judges in the majority are all appointees of Democratic governors whilst the dissenters are Republican appointees. Justices Stith, Teitelman, White and Wolff formed the majority: Stith and Teitelman were appointed by Governor Holden, a democrat, and White and Wolff by the late Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan. In marked contrast, the three justices in dissent, Price, Limbaugh and Benton were appointed by Republican, John Ashcroft, now the US Attorney General, before he left the Governor's office in 1993.

By commuting Simmons' death sentence to life without parole, the Court's new Democratic majority overturned its own 1997 decision upholding Simmons' death sentence. The Democratic majority within the Missouri Supreme Court is recent. The 2002 appointment of Richard B. Teitelman by Governor Bob Holden gave the Court a Democratic majority. Since Teitelman's appointment, the Court has reversed proportionately more death cases than it had during the years when Republican appointees of former Gov. John Ashcroft, now US Attorney General, held the majority. Indeed, in a review of capital appeals addressed by the Court, a 50-50 reversal rate can be seen in decisions made in 2002 and 2003. In contrast, from 1997 to 2001 61 death sentences were affirmed and only 18 reversed (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch).  Until the appointment of Stith in March 2001, Ashcroft appointees held a 5-2 majority in the Court.

History of Juveniles and Capital Punishment in Missouri

Christopher Simmons and Antonio Richardson are the sole offenders on Missouri's death row for crimes committed when under the age of 18. Since the State of Missouri took over executions from the counties in 1937, only one juvenile offender has been executed: In 1993, Frederick Lashley was executed by lethal injection for the April 9, 1981 murder of Janie Tracey.

Responses to the Decision

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. Nixon asserted that this decision "flies in the face of US Supreme Court precedent" and has publicly stated that he disagrees with the Court's reasoning: "we should live under the rules of the Supreme Court until they're overturned, not use legal Ouija board." Referring to both Simmons and the Washington D.C. sniper case of Lee Boyd Malvo, Nixon continued: Two weeks later sitting in front of a birthday cake with 18 candles on it would not alter the mental state of a John Malvo or a Christopher Simmons, in my opinion" (August 28, 2003, Washington Times).

Potential Ramifications

The decision in Simmons is to be applied retroactively to all cases on collateral review. Currently there is only one other juvenile offender on Missouri's death row, Antonio Richardson. Richardson was convicted of the 1991 murder and rape of Julia and Robin Kerry. He was 16 at the time of the offence. Unless the Court's decision is overturned, Richardson's death sentence will be commuted and juveniles will be ineligible for capital punishment in Missouri.  Please click here for information on Antonio Richardson.

The ramifications of this decision, however extend beyond Missouri and potentially may affect the remaining 21 States, which allow for the execution of juvenile offenders, and more specifically the status of all of the 82 juveniles on death row.

Legislative History

The decision of the US Supreme Court in Stanford v. Kentucky in 1989 established the constitutionality of the death penalty as applied to juveniles aged 16 and above.  Correspondingly, States were able, if desired to, to reflect this within their State law.  Despite this, not a single State has lowered their age of eligibility to 16, conversely, five states have increased the age of eligibility to 18.  Both Montana (1999) and Indiana (2002) passed laws to raise the age of eligibility to 18. On re-introducing the death penalty, Kansas (1994) and New York (1995) both elected to set the minimum age of eligibility at 18.  One State, Washington, raised the age to 18 through judicial decision:  Washington Supreme Court in State v. Furman (1993).  (Source: DPIC)

Missouri

Prior to the Missouri Supreme Court decision in Simmons, the minimum age for imposition of the death penalty in Missouri was 16. Offenders are considered to be an adult as of their 17th birthday, but Missouri allows courts to certify 16-year-olds as adults in death cases. The Missouri Legislature's spring session in 2002 considered, but did not pass, bills to raise the minimum age from 16 to 18. State Rep. Robert Mayer, R-Dexter and crime committee chairman, said there was no strong push to change it. Of the 38 states that allow the death penalty, Missouri is one of the seventeen states that set the minimum age for the imposition of capital punishment at 16. A further five states set the minimum age at 17, with the remaining 16 states, which allow capital punishment, setting the minimum age at 18, in line with both federal and military capital punishment laws.

2004 Legislative Activity

As of February 2004, bills have been introduced in 12 states to prohibit the application of the death penalty on juvenile offenders: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. In Missouri, the bill has been shelved owing to the pending USSC decision in Simmons.  In 2003, bills were introduced in 14 States, unfortunately none were successful. 

US: Opinion

Opposition to the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders has continued to grow over the past three years, despite recent events involving 17 year old, Lee Boyd Malvo (the Washington, D.C. sniper), which were widely expected to increase support for the juvenile death penalty. 

Gallup Poll, 2002

General Death Penalty

72% In Favour

25% Oppose

3%   No Opinion

Juvenile Death Penalty

26% In Favour

69% Oppose

5%   No Opinion

ABC Poll Conducted December 10-14, 2003

Juveniles and Death Penalty

62% Favoured life without the possibility of parole

21% Favoured the death penalty

Juvenile Offenders: Issues of Mitigation

Adolescent Brain Development

By their very nature, juveniles are less mature, and therefore less culpable than adults. Adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, identity -- even the brain -- are still developing. Questions concerning adolescent development are becoming more pertinent as scientific research has revealed that, both psychologically and physiologically, juveniles are very different to adults. Clearly, the implications of such research are far reaching.  Recent research documenting the "extent of change that can occur in the (adolescent) brain..." has been heralded as "one (of) the most remarkable findings in neuro-biology of the last decade…" (National Research Council, 1999).

  • For more information on adolescent brain development click here.

Trauma and Abuse

Adolescent developmental immaturity is further compounded by the innumerable extenuating circumstances that are frequently encountered in cases involving juvenile offenders. The vast majority of juveniles on death row have suffered extreme trauma and abuse, suffering from all, or a combination of, the following mitigating factors; mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug addiction, abandonment and severe poverty.

  • For more information on the implications of childhood trauma and abuse click here.

Race

66% of juveniles on death row are people of colour.  In comparison, only 32% of juvenile death row inmates are white.  This stands in marked contrast to the racial breakdown within this age category (16-17) in the general population, where 43.4% are white and only 21% are people of colour.  This disparity further highlights the inequities of the juvenile death penalty and may indicate significant racial bias. (NCADP)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:  US and Juvenile Death Penalty.

Most recently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concluded that the prohibition against the execution of juveniles, defined as those under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, was now of a sufficiently indelible nature to constitute a norm of jus cogens (Domingues v. United States, Report No. 62/02 October 22, 2002).  As the IACHR explained, norms of jus cogens "derive their status from fundamental values held by the international community, as violations of such peremptory norms are considered to shock the conscience of humankind and therefore bind the international community as a whole, irrespective of protest, recognition or acquiescence" (Domingues at 49).

Furthermore, the IACHR found that "by persisting in the practice of executing offenders under the age 18, the US stands alone amongst the traditional developed world nations and those of the inter-American system, and has been increasingly isolated within the entire global community' (Domingues, at 84).  The Commission continued to find such executions to be ‘inconsistent with prevailing standards of decency' (Domingues, at 84).

Several subsequent decisions, such as the Beazley, Sankofa (Graham) and Thomas cases were built on the Domingues decision of 2000.

  • Napoleon Beazley, an African-American, was sentenced to death in Texas after a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. He was condemned for the murder of John Luttig, a white community leader, on April 19, 1994, and, although he has expressed deep regrets about his crime at several times, he was executed on May 28, 2002 in Huntsville, Texas. More information on this case is available here.  

    The inter-American Commission on Human Rights panel has condemned the United States for allowing Texas to execute Napoleon Beazley, reiterating its stance that executing inmates for the crimes they committed before they turned 18 is a violation of international law.

    For the IACHR decision, please click here.

  • Shaka Sankofa (previously known as Gary Graham), an African American, was sentenced to death in Texas for the murder of Bobby Lambert in 1981. Sankofa was 17 years old at the time of the offense. He was executed on June 22, 2000 despite probable evidence of his innocence and despite the fact that he had constantly maintained that he didn't fire the fatal shot to Bobby Lambert.  (Source: Amnesty International)

    For the IACHR decision, please click here.

  • Chris Thomas was convicted in 1991 of the 1990 murders of James Wiseman and Kathy Wiseman, the parents of his 14-year-old girlfriend Jessica Wiseman. He received a 65-year prison sentence for the murder of James Wiseman, and was sentenced to death for the murder of Kathy Wiseman. Despite the fact that he was 17 at the time of the crimes, he was executed in Virginia on January 10, 2000.

    Chris Thomas consistently maintained that he had not fired the final shot which killed Kathy Wiseman. Shortly before the execution, a woman who had allegedly been held in juvenile detention with Jessica Wiseman after the murders came forward and said that Jessica Wiseman had admitted to shooting her mother. In June 1999, two other women came forward with the same allegations. Jessica Wiseman was released from detention in 1997, when she turned 21. She denies killing her mother. (Source: Amnesty International)

    For the IACHR decision, Please click here.

    International Context (As of February 2004)

    Since 1990, there has been a marked reduction in the number of nations that allow such executions.  During this period, the number of countries that have reportedly executed juvenile offenders has dwindled to just eight: Iran (8), Saudi Arabia (1), Nigeria (1), the Democratic Republic of Congo ("DRC") (1), Yemen (1), Pakistan (3), China (1) and the United States (19). In the last three years this small number of nations further declined to only four: Iran (1), Pakistan (1), China (1) and the United States (4).  In fact, in the year 2002 only the US had reportedly executed a juvenile offender. In 2003, the United States and China each executed one juvenile offender.

    In 1994, Yemen changed its law to prohibit the execution of juveniles. In December 1999, the DRC called for a moratorium on all executions. However, in January 2000, a 14 year-old child soldier was executed in the DRC. Since that time, according to OMCT-World Organization Against Torture, four juvenile offenders sentenced to death in the DRC in a military court were granted stays and the sentences were commuted following an appeal from the international community (Case COD 270401.1.CC, 31 May 2001, OMCT-World Organization Against Torture). The Nigerian government stressed to the UN Sub-Commission that the execution, which took place in 1997, was not of a juvenile (See Summary Record of 6th Meeting of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, 52nd Sess., 4th August, 2000, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/SR.6 para.39 (2000)). Saudi Arabia emphatically denies the 1992 execution of a juvenile (See Summary Record of the 53rd Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, 56th Sess., April, 17, 200, E/CN.4/2000/SR.53, paras 88 and 92).

    In July 2000, Pakistan moved to outlaw the execution of juvenile offenders under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. Despite this ordinance, on 3 November 2001, Pakistan executed Ali Sher for a crime he committed at the age of 13. Since this execution, President Musharrah of Pakistan commuted the death sentences of approximately 100 young offenders to imprisonment. This shift away from the juvenile death penalty is supported by the Supreme Court of Pakistan's decision on March 26, 2003 to "peruse and define laws relating to "the imposition of the death sentence (on) young people."

    In common with Pakistan, the domestic law in China prohibits the execution of juveniles. However, in January 2003, Zhao Lin, aged 18, was executed for an offense committed when he was 16 years old. It has been suggested that Chinese courts may not take sufficient care to determine the age of juvenile offenders which could have resulted in this aberration of domestic law.  Most recently, it has been reported that Iran executed Mohammad Mohammadzadeh on 25 January 2004 for an offense committed at the age of 17. Significantly however, in September 2003, it was announced that Iran's judiciary had drafted a bill, to be presented to their parliament shortly, which would eliminate the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18.

    Since 1998, the United States has been the only country to reportedly execute juvenile offenders on a regular basis.  The US has, over the last decade, reportedly executed more juvenile offenders than every other nation of the world combined.

    Juvenile Death Penalty and International Law and Instruments

    An overwhelming body of treaty, general and customary international law prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders. Article 37 (a) of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) specifically prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders. With the exception of the US and Somalia, 191 nations have signed and ratified the CRC. Somalia, until recently, had no recognizable government. However, on 9 May, 2002, Somalia signed the CRC and announced its intention to ratify (International Justice Project, 2003). Further, Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits the death sentence for "crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age". The ICCPR has 149 state parties. Upon ratification of the ICCPR, the US entered a reservation to Article 6 (5), reserving the "right, subject to its constitutional constraints to impose capital punishment on any person, including such punishment for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age". The validity of this reservation is questionable (Schabas, 1995). In fact, even in times of war, international law prohibits the execution of juveniles (Article 68 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949).

    Regional treaties also establish this prohibition. In the inter-American system, Article 4(5) of the American Convention on Human Rights prohibits the execution of juveniles; 25 of the 35 Member States of the Organisation of American States are party to the Convention. Indeed, within Europe, Protocol No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty, as amended by Protocol No. 11 prohibits the imposition of the death penalty in peace time. Protocol No.13 also abolishes the death penalty in all circumstances including crimes committed at times of war and imminent danger.

    Moreover, the UN has issued various resolutions confirming the prohibition against the execution of juveniles.

    For further information on International Law and the Juvenile Death Penalty, please click here.

    Additional Sources

    Amnesty International
    Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC)
    National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)
    ABA Juvenile Justice Centre