Executing teens cruel, unusual and barbaric

Outside of the United States, only seven countries still execute minors.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Roper v. Simmons, which will re-evaluate whether the state may continue executing juveniles. Because the death penalty itself is immoral, the Court must terminate this more particular evil.

The only state interest the death penalty serves is the public’s sadistic need for retribution (a civilized word for “revenge”). The death penalty has never been found to deter crime. In an attempt to ensure the executed are guilty, the Court requires so many procedural safeguards that it costs more to kill them than let them live their days behind bars.

Furthermore, these procedures are only an attempt – mistakes are still made. When DNA or other evidence exonerates an imprisoned individual, it’s unfortunate he or she lost years of his or her life to the state’s mistake, but the state corrects its error, if tardily. If the state has already murdered the innocent person, the correction effectively never comes.

That the death penalty is cruel is intuitive. The question is whether it is unusual. As the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association noted in amicus briefs, studies have new conclusions on minors’ immaturity. While there must be consequences for crimes committed, juveniles’ lives should not end for actions taken before their consciences, moralities and personalities have matured.

Much has been made of the international trend against the death penalty in general and particularly against executing juveniles. On this issue, the United States is in poor company. Outside of the United States, only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen still execute minors. Normally, international opinion is only illustrative. But in this case, other states’ practices are legally relevant as it shows how unusual the execution of a 16-year-old is. Even in the United States, where 19 states allow executions of teenagers, only three have performed them in the last decade.

Executing juveniles is cruel, unusual and barbaric It must stop. If the Court fails to do so, 19 state legislatures must.