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Every year in the United States there are thousands upon thousands of various crimes that are committed. There is also a selection of different punishments that a subject can undergo for their crimes, The decision is ultimately up to the court system. Crimes can be punishable by fines, jail or prison time, community service, the list goes on. In the United States one of the most severe and controversial forms of punishment is known as Capital Punishment. Sarat states that in the 20th century, over 7,000 people in the United States had been executed while 3,000 sat on death row awaiting their execution (2001). What becomes even more of a subjective subject only heightens when we articulate the idea that juveniles should be part of that statistic. The course of human events and sciences have caused laws and regulations to alter. The first evidence of Capital Punishment can be traced back to Jamestown, VA when the British conducted hangings and firing squads in the 1600’s. Dwankowski states that it wasn’t until the Declaration of Independence was signed that persons involved such as Dr. Benjamin Rush (creator of the PA prison system), Benjamin Franklin, and William Bradford believed that the capital punishment was no applicable for all crimes (2017). In 1794, the state of PA was the first to formulate degrees of murder. First degree murders in turn were the only crimes eligible for the death penalty. The 19th century held many changes that one wouldn’t expect for the death penalty. Populations put off a vibe in which they seemingly wanted to abolish the death penalty. The cruel and unusual punishments that were practiced by the past generations were that of the Jacksonia Era and required change (2017).
The use of the gallows was a memory at this point and states that did practice capital punishment were looking into more humane methods of execution. Soon thereafter, the number of those sentenced to death was reduced and in turn there was the formation of state penitentiaries. Between 1834 and 1888, many changes were passed all over the United States towards capital punishment. Pennsylvania moved public executions into correctional facilities, Tennessee and Alabama abolished it altogether, and Michigan abolished it completely except for the crime of treason (2017). As the United States progressed into the 20th century, the stance on the death penalty fluctuated tremendously before it quickly began to settle. A landmark decision was made in the year 1960 when the death penalty was suggested to be unconstitutional under that of the 8th amendment (2017). From this point on, the states that did not have the death penalty outlawed had cases being sent up to the Supreme Court in which variables such as jury discretion, other recommendations, and impartiality were all discussed.
According to the FBI, in 2015, there were 15,696 murders, 90,185 rapes, and 327,374 robberies that were committed (2016). The Department of Justice (DOJ) was able to provide a more specific set of results. Of those heinous crimes committed, 790 of those murders and 18,500 of those robberies were committed by juveniles (2018). Of the murders and the robberies committed in the United States in those years, 5% of such were completed by persons under the age of 18. Unfortunately, juvenile statistics for the crime of rape are not available after the year 2012. This is because at the beginning of the year 2013, the FBI had changed the criteria and specific definition of the term rape. The term “forcible” had been removed and statements regarding vaginal penetration with a foreign object or genitalia had been entered (2016). Roper v. Simmons was a case that took place back in 1993. At the time, a 17-year-old male named Christopher Simmons had planned and committed a capital murder. Over the course of the next 10 years that followed, the team had sent up a numerous amount of appeals to both the state as well as the federal level (Cornell, 2005). During the course of the trial that had followed Simmons turned 18 and was sentenced to death.
Based upon a past case that was brought up (Atkins v. Virginia), it was decided that a second look at the case should be initiated. The case of Atkins v. Virginia reflected upon that of the 8th and 14th amendment regarding the execution of persons that were mentally retarded. It was a violation of such because Americans found that it was a violation and under such reconsidered Simmons case (Cornell, 2005). Upon reflection of the 1989 Atkinson case, which ended in aq 6 – 3 decision, it was deemed that the execution of a minor was unconstitutional and from that point on would no longer be considered valid. With the case of Standford v. Kentucky, a 17-year-old male had been convicted by a jury of not only murder, but sodomy, robbery, and a receipt of stolen property. At the time Standford had received the death penalty under the stipulation that a juvenile was eligible for the death penalty under the circumstances that they commit a class a felony or a capital crime. Similar to the other cases that have been discussed, Stanford also felt that the decision for him to be put to death was in violation of his human rights (Cornell, 1989). The Supreme Court ruled in a 5 – 4 decision that there are extenuating circumstances to most cases and in this, a comparison of the case details to the evolving standards and morality of today’s society should be identified. In turn, Stanford not only received 45 years in prison, but the death penalty for his actions (Cornell, 1989). The Roper v. Simmons case had ruled, based upon evaluation of both cases that special groups of offenders (in this case children and mentally retarded persons) have little to no intellectual impairment compared to the adults that committed the same crime. As a long-term result, 72 persons that had been sentenced to death actually were resentenced based upon the 2005 Supreme Court decision.
The major ethical issues and values that fall into the mix are of the utmost importance. We live in the United States under that of the Constitution. Our constitution is the supreme law of our land. It is a set of rules and principles that not only we live by, but that many of us would die for. Among the supreme law, there are a variety of amendments that have been debated and argued over the years in regards to their interpretation. Previously, the 8th and 14th amendments were brought up in the context of capital punishments against the mentally retarded and how the execution of a child was classified under that of cruel and unusual punishment. The ethical dilemma at hand is the violation of the laws in the United States at both the federal and state level. This stands for state laws and amendments. In the minds of some, they believe that one should be punished for their crimes against their fellow man. Based upon a given individuals crimes, they can be sentenced to a variety of things ranging from jail/ prison time, community service, fines, etc. Based on circumstances to crimes, the punishment can become more or less harsh in the long run. 99% would agree on both sides of the argument, that a punishment is due for the violation of crimes, amendments, and the supreme law. At this point values have a say in the process. Values are what we as individuals find important. They are highly relatable to that of morals and can be defined as what we find to be of worth, importance, something deserving, etc. Reasons in which people are opposed to capital punishment at times is because life without parole is an alternative (especially if there is any chance that the person behind bars might be innocent), the cost of capital punishment, etc.
There are also the aspects of taking another person’s life and the capital punishment being against religions. Understanding the human brain and that of a teenager of even younger is something that not only parents wish to understand, but law enforcement officials as well. At these young ages, good judgement is something that has to be experienced over the course of time. Like Rome, it cannot be constructed in merely a day. It does not matter what someone’s GPA is, what they scored on their SAT, or what their IQ may be, life choices and good/ bad decisions are of a completely different spectrum. According to Rochester, the human brain is not actually done developing until around the age of 15 (2018). Research has actually proven this theory, ruling that the brain of an adult works quite different compared to the brain of a child or a teenager. For example, in the normal human brain, an adult will utilize their prefrontal cortex to make decisions. This is the rational portion of the brain; it focuses on making decisions based upon given factors such as consequences of their actions, judgement-based decisions, and ones based upon awareness (Rocheseter, 2018). On the other hand, a child/ teenager will make decisions using their amygdala. This portion of the brain is emotional based (Rochester, 2018). Also, the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and the rest of the brain is still continuing to develop as they age.
This unfortunately does not happen with each individual minor as everyone is different will continue to develop and grow at a different rate. This is one reason in which children at times may be consumed with such emotion. They might in fact be feeling a lot more than their mind is thinking at the time. Society and public policy themselves have had difficulties in keeping up with the constant changes in neuroscience and neuroimaging. Another question at hand is the lack of evidence that links the process of neurodevelopment and adolescent real-world behaviors (Johnson, 2009). This development shapes the way that public creates policies such as the age a person can purchase alcohol, what age they can go into a movie for mature audiences, as well as the given punishments for crimes that a minor may commit. In the lives of their children, there is only so much that parents, role models, and guardians can do. More importantly, a child needs to know the difference between right and wrong. They must be aware that actions such as lying, cheating, and stealing from an early age aren’t acceptable. The development of the brain continues to almost one-third of a person’s life. According to Kalb, a child on average can depict the difference between right and wrong from ages 7 to 15 (2000). There was a recent study done that tested such in a court of law. Evans was to determine the competency of a child’s ability to testify in a court of law. He began by taking 154 different 5-year old’s that were witnesses to sexual abuse cases over a 35-year time frame. It turned out that the dismissal of select children being able to testify fell back on people such as the judge and the attorneys (Evans, 2012). It turns out the way that a question was asked or the way in which a child was asked a certain question was the problem. For example, the diction that was used in questions was too difficult at times and hypothetical questions were troublesome as well. (Evans, 2018).
Yes and no questions were to be statistically more accurate rather than definition or story-based question and response situations. (2012). The major question at hand is does the death penalty reduce crime? If so would it be able to deter crime against minors the same way that it potentially does against their adult counterparts? Can a child step back from a situation and think about their actions and judgement and articulate that for committing a crime, that they could lose their life? The first execution of a child occurred within the Plymouth Colony of Massachussets back in 1642 and since then, approximately 365 juveniles (that we are aware of), have been executed for crime (DPIC, 2018). Since 1608, this makes up about 1.8% of the of the approximate 20,000 that have been put to death up until present day. 22 of said executions have been have been imposed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 and make up 2% of the executions in America since 1976. Since the year 1990, only 11 countries have been known to have executed juveniles for crimes within their land: Iran, Yemen, Republic of the Congo, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, China, and the United States. In the United States alone, there are only 16 states that do not utilize the death penalty. Many of the listed countries have since then barred and formulated laws in regards to not executing persons under the age of 18 or persons under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. Studies reflect both sides of the spectrum, yet capital punishment in the United States has been statistically proven as a deterrent to violent crimes such as murder.
According to Muhlhausen, 67% of Americans are for the death penalty while only 28% of those are opposed to it (2007). Though there are some constitutional stipulations to such, a majority are in favor. The difficulty at this point is convincing officials on the local, state, as well as the federal level. This idea falls back on something known as the deterrence theory. When a given individual fears the thought of apprehension or a punishment, they are less likely to act out in order to avoid that given punishment. In this case, it is the death penalty. Studies have been conducted over the past years in order to better evaluate the connection between capital punishment and decreased murder rates. All of which based upon the theory which focuses on the aspects of the theory which can range from net costs to various benefits (Muhlhausen (2007). Some of the earliest research on such was conducted by Isaac Ehlrich in the 1970’s. Isaac had the earliest known research at the time for such, possibly a factory of why his work was controversial and was debatable. In turn, because of the lack of other supporting or defacing research available. Ehlrich began by taking the capital punishment statistics from the years 1933 to 1969 and blended such with a variety of variables ranging from unemployment and per capita income to form a mathematical formula. According to Lamperti, his work produced a negative coefficient for the execution variable. In latent terms, it was determined that more executions would result in fewer homicides throughout the community (2007). Ehlrich went on to state how his work and hypothesis could not be rejected.
This was true; to restate, it was because it was the first study done in regards to deterrence on this level. Over the years, more research on the same topic has been performed. A majority of such has been composed of panel data sets that have been composed by persons in the field such as Naci Mocan, Kaj Gittings, and Paul Zimmerman. In another study, results came from from Rubin and Shepherd when they took the data from over 3,000 counties in the United States from the years 1977 to 1996. With it they compared it to state level panel data from the years 1960 to 2000 (Lamperti, 2007). What made this research unique to others work that had been performed was that they were able to compare the relationship of the data between executions and murders that occurred before, during, as well as after the Supreme Court’s moratorium. (Hashem, 2006). According to their results they found that executions had a high negative relationship with murders and that the Supreme Court’s moratoria was responsible for the increase in murders (2007). Three important factors were discovered as an end result to their research. The first was that on average, each execution that occurred presented as a reduction or both murder and crimes of passion by 3. Next, each execution reduced the number of whites murdered by 1, blacks by 1.5, and all other races by half. Lastly, they found that for each 2.75 years that were removed from the wait time for an execution actually deterred 1 murder (Muhlhausen, 2007). Lastly, a delinquent’s recidivism rate in the United States combined with what we know about adolescent brain development and crime deterrence is more than enough to see why capital punishment should be applicable to selected children. Given crimes would just come them to the same eligibility category as their adult counterparts. Recidivism is a former criminal’s relapse back into crime.
After they have been punished or have gone through an intervention of some kind and fall back into the criminal behaviors (NIJ, 2018). In 2008, over 2 million children had been arrested. Of that number, 95% had been charged with a violent crime including murder, rape, or aggravated assault (Gottesman, 2011). When a child enters the system, the courts usually take control in a slightly different fashion. There are options to punishment such as fines, rehab, curfews, etc. Not everything is jail or harsh punishments at this age. What experts must realize is that these methods are effective only nearly half of the time and certain circumstances require special measures. The CFA of Washington state conducted a data sheet specifically on recidivism. Of the 2,418 female children that committed, 45.53% of them recommitted while 52.81% of the 9,155 male children recommitted as well (CFA, 2018). Almost 9% of the crimes committed in the state fell under the category of a violent crime. Unfortunately, Washington state is not the only location that has been having high recidivism rates. According to Pierre, a 2007 study was conducted among 6 boards of data throughout the United States. Experts kept a close eye on persons for a variety of time ranging from 1.5 to 6 years to see if they would end up back in the justice system or keep a clean slate. In the state of Florida after new laws had been pushed, they had 34% more felony arrests among the juvenile community (Pierre, 2007). This accounted for all crimes and was a mix of all different forms of crime; not just violent. Sometimes the traditional residential treatment facilitates are not an option for juvenile offenders. More extreme punishments have been utilized and have not been effective in the long run.
Transferring of juveniles to adult correctional facilities is not something that is new within the border of our country. With a scenario like this, it is only more likely to increase the recidivism rate in a child rate by 30% (Gottesman, 2011). There are stipulations among the states that we know as judicial waivers, prosecutorial discretion, statutory waiver, automatic transfer, and once adult/ always adult. As the last implies, there are certain factors that will force or can force a juvenile to be tried as an adult. This typically happens to minors that commit the violent crimes that had been described. Overall, a majority of violent juvenile offenders in the United States are already tried as adults. From birth, the child’s mind continues to develop well into the mid and late 20’s of their life. This factor is interesting because though a person can be sentenced to death at the edge of 18, they can potentially be mentally undeveloped. In the past, a handful of countries have had no issues when it comes to handing out capital punishment to minors. Of course this comes with certain circumstances. At a very young age, a child already knows the difference between right and wrong. They may not be able to weigh the consequences in their mind, but they know what they should and should not be doing. Not only this, but they under research have been deemed mentally capable in almost all circumstances of acting appropriately in the court of law. By utilizing the death penalty on juveniles, it would only influence the younger generations to begin acting appropriately more often and to stay out of trouble. Children indeed are the future. Many would argue that it is going in a negative outlook and changes need to be made. Times change; with children committing more violent crimes at a younger age. By setting an example of capital punishment it would in fact deter future generations from making the same mistakes and keep themselves out of trouble.
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