US high court ends execution of juvenile murderers
WASHINGTON: A closely divided US Supreme Court on Tuesday abolished the death penalty for those who were under the age of 18 when they committed murder, a major victory for opponents of capital punishment.
By a 5-4 vote, the high court declared unconstitutional the juvenile death penalty, a decision that could affect about 70 death row inmates who face execution for crimes done when they were 16 or 17 years old.
The decision amounted to a significant change from the Supreme Court ruling 16 years ago when it held the execution of such juvenile offenders did not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Opponents of capital punishment had argued that world opinion and a national consensus has now formed against the juvenile death penalty and said it should be struck down as unconstitutional, like the Supreme Court did in 2002 in barring executions of mentally retarded criminals.
In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed and declared the US Constitution forbids the imposition of the death penalty against offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed.
“It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime,” he wrote in his opinion. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the ruling. reuters