Evolving Standards of Decency and the Execution of Juvenile Offenders

Stacy L. Mallicoat, California State University, Fullerton

The decision by the Supreme Court in Trop v. Dulles (1958) held that the definition of cruel and unusual punishment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" (356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). While the court limited the execution of juveniles to ages 16 and 17 in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), the recent decision in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) on mental retardation indicate that the evolving standards of decency on executing special populations may be changing. Based on the court's ruling in Atkins, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders violates the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment (Simmons v. Roper (2003)). Following a review of the history of juvenile executions and the current state of juvenile executions, this paper focuses on how the decision of Atkins and the granting of certiorari by the court in Roper may indicate a willingness to eliminate the execution of juveniles in the United States in the near future.

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Updated 05/20/2006