The Constitution and the Death Penalty for Juveniles: Assessing Standards of Decency

Alida V. Merlo, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Peter J. Benekos, Mercyhurst College

In January, 2004, the Supreme Court agreed to re-consider the issue of age-eligibility and the death penalty (Roper v. Simmons, No. 03-633). In doing so, the Court reversed its position of January 2003, when it declined to hear the appeal of Scott Allen Hain (Hain v. Mullen, No. 02-6438). Since 1989, when the Court ruled that the death penalty was permissible for offenders ages 16 and 17 [Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989)], several developments including declining use of the death penalty, changing public opinion, international policy and world opinion, and increased exonerations of offenders sentenced to death, suggest emergent standards of decency that support a ban on juvenile executions. This paper summarizes some of these developments as well as the use of the death penalty, and reviews the context of recent Court decisions that set the stage for the Roper agruments.

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Updated 05/20/2006