Sample Essay On Juveniles And The Death Penalty
Chapter 1: Introduction
The death penalty is one of the oldest forms of punishments in the world. It was quite popular with colonial powers that enjoyed trampling the rights of the indigenous populations. However as time progressed, especially after the second world war the popular opinion was that the death penalty was barbaric. Several countries rewrote their laws to allow this punishment only for extremely rare cases of brutality or for traitors. The United States and her laws were most sought after during this period. Several European countries framed their laws to resemble the American natural law.
The abolition of slavery in 1865 did not sit well with the Southern states. They always perceived the African American population as threats and never missed an opportunity to get back at this community with unequal laws. This became very apparent during America’s war against drugs. There were separate laws for Caucasian and African American defendants; even the jail sentences varied for a while.
The war on drugs also saw a slew of laws that were suddenly inducted to make it impossible for even a user to get away with less than five years in prison. The population arrested included a huge number of juveniles who were tried as adults if there was a gun possession involved. These states also strongly advocated the use of life imprisonment or even the death penalty for juvenile African Americans.
The two states that remained convicted to the cause of executing inmates on death row for crimes committed as juveniles were Alabama and Texas. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw international community started pressurizing the United States to abolish the death sentence for juvenile crimes. This was a particularly embarrassing situation for a nation that had long advocated the rights of oppressed peoples across the globe.
Eventually, the Supreme Court intervened and passed a resolution that banned the sentencing of juvenile defendants in 2005. It had taken us two decades to follow the example of our western allies and abolish the juvenile death sentence. This did not stop the courts from treating juveniles as adults in certain cases involving violent crime. Today, there are juvenile offenders among the regular prison population for crimes that they committed in an environment that subjected them to a certain behavior. The death penalty might have gone away however; justice for the juveniles still seems to be a far out cry.
Popular studies have indicated that the youth in the United States have succumbed to pressure and committed crimes that are considered to be unreal experiences for their age. Yet, the laws do not seem to represent any such reservations in handing out such sentences. Today, in the United States one in every ten death row inmates is innocent. Although, the death sentence cannot be imposed on individuals who committed the crime before their 18th birthday, there are other laws that can ensure the individual’s stay in prison to be quite long.
There are sentences that can run for twenty years for dealing in drugs. For example, a sixteen year old drug dealer who was arrested along with the possession of a firearm is likely to receive twenty years to life in any southern state of the United States; especially if he was from the African American community. As a result, although it is not a death sentence, the prolonged jail term will leave the individual with very few choices once he is released from prison. The individual would most likely be released when he is thirty and without any formal education. He would be back in prison in no time with a much longer jail term. The context of the problem is to procure justice for the youth of this nation irrespective of race. The other reality is how the law can be twisted to suit the political oppression of a certain community when the nation chooses to abolish a draconian law that had been instrumental in keeping their ambitious under the control of the majority community.
The purpose of this paper is to bring the focus on the factors that brought judges to order the execution of over two hundred and sixty youngsters who had committed crimes at an age when they were too young to decipher the moral absolutes. These factors could rear their heads once more in the form of a different law with a different implication on a minority community that could threaten to destabilize our nation.
The study is aimed at identifying patterns within the criminal justice system that could advocate more harsh punishments for juvenile offenders every time there is a spike in the rates of a certain form of crime. The study also aims at providing a comprehensive correctional plan that would enable juvenile criminal offenders to rebuild their lives and rejoin community as active contributors rather than as brief visitor who are hauled out the first chance they take to commit a crime.
This study also looks closely at the African American community and its relation to the laws of this nation. After one hundred and fifty years of becoming liberated from slavery, this community still doesn’t find too many takers who want to champion their rights and especially the rights of juvenile offenders that come in by the droves every year.
Significance, scope and definitions
The significance of the paper lies in the factors that are identified that indicates the willingness of the law and law makers to introduce more laws that would further disrupt the proceedings of a normal balance based on clinical studies on the maturing levels of our youth to simply marginalizing the youth of a certain community.
We need new laws that will evaluate the crime committed by an individual taking into account the scenario and facts that surrounded the act. The consequences should be based on the letter of the law and not determined by the color of the defendant’s skin.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
This section of the paper visits the paper that was authored by Robyn Linde from the University of Minnesota titled, “From Rapists to Super predators: what the practice of capital punishment says about race, rights and the American child”. This section will critically evaluate the contents of this journal volume for facts and observations.
Summary and implications
The journal article is a well planned article that stretches from the origins of law making in the United States, the reasons why it was difficult for the country to follow the international community, why the federal structure interfered with protecting juvenile rights and why it took a very long time to ratify the existing laws.
The article had suggested that the origins of the juvenile death sentence were initially a by-product of the British laws that had been passed down. British laws were based on moral absolutes however the laws in the United States were always based on the Natural law. Yet, it was unable to set a stipulated set of rules on which states could frame their laws. The reason for a federal structure that allowed states to make decisions on juvenile justice systems was the regional significance that the state populations enjoyed. Hence, the federal government allowed states to formulate their own interpretations of the law and its statues.
This however, turned out to be a letdown since the southern states took up this opportunity to fight its own battle against the freed African American community. Moreover, they had racially segregated the safeguards that were provided for the children of the nation based on race. This led to the execution of several African American children. For example the state of Texas had executed twenty-nine juveniles and only seven of them belonged to the Caucasian community (Linde, 2011).
There had been problems in ratifying international treaties and policies since any such procedures would have to earn an absolute majority on the floor of the legislative houses. These factors allowed racially motivated state regimes to exploit the situation and extend their aid to the war on the African American community. Ironically, when the death penalty for the juveniles was abolished, the five judges who voted for the removal of the sentence were Caucasian and one judge among the ones who voted against was African American.
Chapter 3: Methodology and discussions
This section of the paper discusses the methods and procedures used for this study. It also analyzes the different participants’ and sources that enabled the data gathering of this study possible. This section of the paper also analyzes the limitations of this study and the assumptions that were made on account of the limitations presented.
The methodology used for this study is experimental since there is no scope to fully challenge the events that had taken place due to their past status.
The research design involved for this paper is quantitative. The independent variables of this paper are the future law making considerations that are recommended by this paper in the area of juvenile justice. The dependant variables include the present laws that have followed up the archaic law of executing juveniles, their effect on the society and the future of this approach to law making.
The participants are the members of the African American communities and the southern states that formulated laws that would make it impossible for the spared juveniles to lead a normal life. The participants could also extend to the international child welfare organizations and world bodies including the United Nations that have played a key role in maintaining the integrity of the abolition of the death penalty against juveniles in the world.
Ethics and limitations
The future for this subject is practically nonexistent since the law to execute people for juvenile crimes has been abolished by the Supreme Court on the basis of being constitutionally invalid. Although previous lawsuits throughout the 1980s had reiterated this point of being unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruling consisted of a majority who were Caucasian (FindLaw, 2014). In fact the only member of the African American community; Judge Clarence Thomas voted to retain the death penalty against juvenile crimes (Lane, 2005). This suggests a lack of prejudice in the ruling paving way for future rulings that can shape the correctional system a more productive way to rehabilitate young criminal offenders.
This section of the paper constitutes to the discussion of topics that relate to the past and present state of the law pertaining to the juvenile capital offences in the perspective of punishment and scope of rehabilitation. The following questions will spearhead the discussions for this paper.
What was the scope of rehabilitation for young offenders who were involved in violent crime?
What is the scope of rehabilitation for such young criminals in today’s laws?
The following section will discuss the recommendations that should be incorporated into the federal structure of this nation and the amendments that have to be made to protect the children; especially those children who belong to minority communities.
What was the scope of rehabilitation for young offenders who were involved in violent crime?
The pre 2005 era did not hold much for young criminal offenders who were involved in violent crimes such as rape and murder. The crime of rape alone could invite a life term without parole and the shifting of the case from the juvenile justice system.
The juvenile justice system allowed children, who were exposed to crime to build their lives positively during incarceration at a center or foster home where they could continue their education, learn vocations through special courses, and had the opportunity to work for local businesses. These options were largely made available to children of the Caucasian race for major crimes or for minor crimes such as robbery, drug abuse, shoplifting or assault. Any involvement in a charge that amounts to more than manslaughter was immediately transferred to an adult court especially if the child was from the African American community.
The crime of rape on its own could bring forth a life sentence and if it is accompanied by murder or assault against the victim, it transformed into an automatic death sentence. The establishment of the crime was also questionable in several cases. Most prosecutors only needed an African American suspect to convincingly win a guilty verdict from a jury (Capital punishment in context, 2015). The judicial system was also marred by inefficient law enforcement personnel who coerced confessions, tortured suspects and even when there was no evidence for probable cause, the defendants were charged with the crime. The unfortunate case of George Stinney Jr., who was executed in 1944 despite the availability of evidence of his innocence, was sentenced to death at the age of 14. He became the youngest juvenile ever to be killed by the state (Death Penalty Information Center, 2015).
The scope of rehabilitation centers existed during this time however; they were not made available for anyone except for children from the Caucasian race. The other community that suffered equally against racially prejudiced laws was the Latin American community. This community has stayed relatively quiet compared to the African American community mainly due to deportation threats.
The problem of racially prejudiced sentencing became very apparent during the war on drugs launched in the mid 1980s. This period saw a slew of juveniles being tried as adults simply because the legislatures decided that any possession or use of a firearm could invite a twenty year sentence and that the defendant would be tried as an adult. This resulted in several thousand African American and Latin American juveniles ending up in prisons and jails along with the general inmate populations. When they were eventually released in 2011, most of them were still addicted to drugs and had not been rehabilitated at all. In contrast, Caucasian communities were able to recover their youngsters from drug abuse and avoid jail terms since the sentencing terms were different for cocaine (popular with the Caucasian community) and crack cocaine (popular with the African American and Latin American communities).
What is the scope of rehabilitation for such young criminals in today’s laws?
Today, the laws are more than willingly admit juvenile criminals to complete lenient sentences that are clubbed together with rehabilitation and scope for continuing education or careers. They have been amended to allow juvenile offenders from all communities to have a fair chance; although the rate of being tried as adults is still higher for the minorities when compared to the Caucasian community.
The prejudice has not changed for witnesses, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and even forensic technicians who are quite willing to forge evidence to keep an African American in the guilty charge despite the presence of evidence that might prove their innocence. The laws have also been mended with the introduction of the due course process violations being taken up seriously, the mandatory disclosure of all evidence in the case to the defense teams and the possibility to use DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent.
Yet we are yet to lead the way for the world in sweeping the injustice meted out to our minorities.
Chapter 4: Conclusions and recommendations
The errors of the past continue to haunt our justice system with prejudiced lawmen and district attorneys. The only way to put an end to this menace is to embrace laws that emphasize accountability on the so-called keepers of the law. There should be a requirement that holds prosecutors liable whenever there is misconduct. The punishment must hold a heavy fine or even dismissal from service depending on the severity of the sentence. There should also be a legislature that sheds the possibility of earning incentives through conviction rates for prosecutors and incentives on collars for police. Each case of a juvenile being tried as an adult should go through at least three levels where one level includes state level authorities, level two consists of rehabilitation committees and the final level which takes the decision be federal authorities from any of the northern states. Unless these changes are made to the laws, we will continue to see justice being denied to minority communities and more importantly towards children who definitely deserve a second chance.
Linde, Robyn (2011). From Rapists to Superpredators: What the practice of capital punishment says about race, rights and the American child. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 19, 127-150.
Death Penalty Information Center (2015). Efforts Underway to Exonerate 14-Year-Old Executed in South Carolina in 1944. Retrieved from: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/5712
Capital punishment in context Staff (2015). The Death Penalty for Juveniles. Retrieved from: http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/issues/juveniles
FindLaw Staff (2014). Juveniles and the Death Penalty. Retrieved from: http://criminal.findlaw.com/juvenile-justice/juveniles-and-the-death-penalty.html
Lane, Charles (2005). 5-4 Supreme Court Abolishes Juvenile Executions. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html