Roper v. Simmons
543 U.S. 551 (2005)
Facts: The US Supreme Court granted review in this case to rule on the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile defendants (those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime). This case involves, Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he was arrested for the murder of Shirley Crook. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In 2003, nine years after his conviction, the Missouri Supreme Court reviewed Simmons’ case. The court invalidated the death sentence in this case noting that it believed that the views of the public and national learned organizations reflect a consensus that would not support such executions. The court determined that juvenile executions violated the Eighth Amendment’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment under the “evolving standards of decency” test. The state of Missouri appealed that ruling. The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, which could lead to a reversal of a 1989 decision in which the court upheld the death penalty for crimes committed by 16- and 17-year-olds (Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361). Since 1988, the court has barred execution of those 15 and younger (Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815). It reached the Supreme Court by writ of habeas corpus.
Issue: Does the imposition of the death penalty on an individual who was 17 years old when he committed a murder constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment, and is thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments? YES.
Majority Decision: The Court held that, although committing a first degree intentional homicide in Missouri is punishable by death or life imprisonment, an offender under the age of 18, anywhere in the U.S., cannot be granted the death penalty, because it would represent “cruel and unusual punishment”, due to the understanding that a minor is behaviorally and emotionally immature. The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders,...