The Death Penalty For Juvenile Delinquents Criminology Essay

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The issue of the treatment of young people when committing a certain crime is a very important issue because sometimes it may be a matter of life and death. Some people agree that in the case of murder, a young child or a teenager must be convicted even to death. However this occurs only in some states of the United States of America, where death penalty is still used as a way of punishment, when there is a violation of the law generally, and the case of murder more specifically.

About USA

The country that I have chosen to talk about and in the same time analyze the current situation is, as I have already mentioned, the United States of America (USA). The reasons for my choice are that recently there has been a rise in the severity of crimes in the USA, where the death penalty still exists as a mean of punishment. Another reason is that because it is one of the few countries that the gun possession is absolutely legal, and thus, young children or teenagers can have access to guns easily. As a result more crimes occur than any other country, where gun possession would be illegal. This topic is important for the United States, because the worst crimes committed by juveniles, have taken place in the US, but also because sometimes, the statistics that have to do with juvenile crimes are very shocking. For example, juveniles account for more than one-third (35.6 percent) of committing sex offenses against minors. [1] 

The research question

The thing that triggered my interest for selecting, investigating and researching this topic is mainly the death penalty for juvenile delinquents. Is it just fair to convict a young child in the same way as an adult? The child is not mature enough, how aware is he or she of the consequences of his or her actions? If young people are not allowed to consume alcohol or tobacco, how fair is to judge them as adults? Is it right for them to receive the death penalty in the states where it exists? The research question that I am going to develop is the following: "Should juvenile offenders receive the death penalty, depending on the severity of crime?"In this essay, I will first define and clarify what is meant by a juvenile offender in the United States, meaning the age at which someone is considered an adult. Then I will present some real facts through statistics, in order to give as clear view as possible of the situation. Finally, I will try by investigating the topic, to answer if possible the research question.

Effects on the society

The treatment of juveniles as adults in the case of committing a severe crime seems to be gaining more popularity, as the years go by. A reason for this could be that the number of young people committing different types of crimes is continuously rising. This fact is having a lot of effects on the general society. This is because if a juvenile offender is convicted as an adult, many people are going to criticize this decision, but if not convicted, then some people may argue, that it might be dangerous for other people with committing another crime.

What is a juvenile?

In the United States of America a minor refers to a person below the age of eighteen years old. However if it has to do with alcohol, then minor is anyone under the age of twenty-one. The age levels may be different from one state to the other in the United States, because of the different legislation in each state. In eleven states, including Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas, a "juvenile" is legally defined as a person under seventeen. In three states, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina, "juvenile" refers to a person under sixteen. In other states a juvenile is legally defined as a person under eighteen. Under this distinction, those considered juveniles are usually tried in juvenile court, and they may be afforded other special protections. For example, in some states a parent or guardian must be present during police questioning, or their names may be kept confidential when they are accused of a crime. For many crimes, especially more violent crimes, the age at which a minor may be tried as an adult is variable below the age of 18 or less often below sixteen years old. For example, in Kentucky, the lowest age a juvenile may be tried as an adult, no matter the severity of the crime is fourteen years old. In the past, young offenders and adults were judged by the same court, and then the judge decided if the offender was going to be judged as an adult or as a juvenile depending on how severe the crime was. In more recent years, there is a different court of law for the younger offenders, and states have passed a number of laws to expand the mechanisms in which youth may be prosecuted in adult court, and some researchers estimate, that each year, as many as 200,000 children are prosecuted in general. [2] 

Negative effects

The negative effects of trying youth in the adult criminal court are the following: they face the same penalties as adults, including life without parole; they will receive little or no education, health treatment, or rehabilitative programming. They will obtain an adult criminal record that may significantly limit their future education and employment opportunities. They are at greater risk of assault and death in adult jails and prisons with adult inmates, and finally, they will be more likely to re-offend than youth not exposed to the negative influences and toxic culture of the adult criminal punishment system. [3] 

The aspect through facts and statistics

I am going to present some statistics in order to have a clearer view of the situation in the United States from the last survey concerning juvenile crime made in 2008. In 2008, juveniles were involved in 1 in 10 arrests for murder and about 1 in 4 arrests for robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. As far as murder is concerned from the mid-1980s to the peak in 1993, the juvenile arrest rate for murder more than doubled. Then, the juvenile arrest rate for murder declined through the mid-2000s, reaching a level in 2004 that was 77% less than the 1993 peak. The growth in the juvenile murder arrest rate that began in 2004 was interrupted in 2008 as the rate fell 6% over the past year, resting at a level that was 74% below its 1993 peak. [4] As we can see, the percentage of juveniles committing murder has dramatically fallen since 1993 but there is still a large percentage of arrests for less important crimes such as robberies and burglaries. Another important issue, which is a reason for juveniles to be convicted as adults, is the forcible rape, which as we can see from the statistics below, it has also fallen in the recent years, in comparison to 1991 for example, where it was the peak point for forcible rape. Following the general pattern of other assaultive offenses, the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape increased from the early 1980s through the early 1990s and then fell substantially. Over the 1980-2008 period, the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape peaked in 1991, 44% more than its 1980 level. With few exceptions, the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape dropped annually from 1991 through 2008. By 1999, it had returned to its 1980 level. By 2008, the rate had reached its lowest level since at least 1980 and 57% less than its 1991 peak. [5] 

Further reduction of crime

As we can see from the numbers stated above, there has been made a big effort by the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) in the United States, in order to try and reduce the juvenile crime, and the crime generally, and the statistic's numbers show that they have achieved it, but I believe they have to try and reduce more the juvenile crime, because some statistics, for example the fact that 1 in 4 arrests for robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, are committed by young children or teenagers is a very worrying fact and I believe it has to be reduced in the next few years. That could be achieved by informing the children from a young age about how bad is committing crimes generally.

Death penalty as a mean of punishment

As far as the death penalty is concerned, in 38 states of the United States of America, death penalty is authorized as a mean of punishment, but not all of them authorize juvenile death penalty. The 23 of the 38 permit the execution of offenders, who committed capital offences when they were juveniles. [6] There is a big debate over whether the under aged offenders must receive that kind of punishment, because the advocates will argue that it is better to punish the offenders with a death penalty, in order to maintain public safety, and avoid similar crimes. On the other hand, opponents will argue that it might be cruel and unfair to treat a juvenile the same way an adult is treated, and what could actually be done is, to provide treatment, rehabilitative services, and programs designed to prevent future involvement in law-violating behavior. This debate along with some cases that had gained a lot of publicity some years ago, have increased the public interest and thus a lot of research and examination has been done by several people, mostly academics, about which side of the two is right, without reaching any conclusion yet.

From 1973, until 2000, the facts show that 196 people have been convicted to death in the whole United States of America. At this point it is interesting to mention that most of these people were executed, not at the age of committing the crime, but some years later. There have also been some cases of execution, that the offenders were executed even 20 years after committing the crime. In twenty years time, and especially for a juvenile, a lot of things may have changed and they may also have regretted something they did in the past when they were not as mature as when they were the day of the execution.

The law behind death penalty

In the United States of America, the congress or any other state legislature may set the death penalty, as a mean of punishment, when murder is committed or some other capital crimes, such as civil rights offenses resulting in death, genocide or even espionage, which means spying, in a way of obtaining information that is confidential or secret. The Supreme Court, states that the death penalty is not a violation of the eighth amendment's ban for cruel or unusual punishment. It has also determined, that a penalty must always be proportional to the crime committed, otherwise the punishment violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, stated above.

What is the court's view about death penalty?

When the moment comes for the Supreme Court, to perform, its proportionality analysis, it looks at three factors, which are the following: a consideration of the offense's gravity and the stringency of the penalty, a consideration of how the jurisdiction punishes its other criminals, and a consideration of how other jurisdictions punish the same crime. [7] There are also many other things that both the judges and the jury must consider when deciding to impose the death penalty or not to under aged people, because their decision is very crucial for that person. What the court must always consider is the mental health of the offender, because if for example that person is mentally ill, then the right thing to do is to provide special treatment by doctors in institutions rather than just killing them. Two years ago the Supreme Court abolished executions for the mentally retarded, pointing to the actions of state legislatures in establishing bans on executing the retarded as a sign of a national consensus against such action. [8] 

The previous years there has been a significant reduction in the number of young people that have been executed as a punishment for a certain crime. On March 1, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to outlaw the death penalty for juveniles who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crimes, calling the execution of children unconstitutionally cruel. Generally, in my opinion, the death penalty is a violation of the human rights. The reason why I am saying this is because whatever the accusation may be, I believe that there are some human rights that must be taken into consideration and that no one deserves to die because of some wrong things he or she did in the past. I strongly support that the right thing that has to be done in that kind of cases, is to make the offender understand the mistake that has been done and not do something similar again. This can be achieved through imprisonment and in that way justice is also served for the family of the victim.

Gun possession

A worrying fact is that the United States is the only western and civilized country that still practices the death penalty. The reason behind this, in my opinion, is that there is a higher rate of crime. What the government should do is to look at the root of the problem. What I mean is that we cannot wait till a crime is committed and then just execute the offender. The right thing would be to prevent the crime. An interesting fact, is that the states that use death penalty as a way of punishment have a higher crime rate than the states that don't. A very important factor of the high crime rates is the gun ownership. It may sound strange but

anyone in the US can have a gun. No one asks if the person who buys the gun is in a good mental condition or the reason why he or she buys it. This is the main reason why juveniles have easy access to guns and in most cases these guns are taken from their parents.

A good example of gun ownership by juveniles is the Columbine High School massacre occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School, Colorado, United States, where two students with guns entered their school and killed twelve students, one teacher and also injured twenty one other students. The two students after the massacre committed suicide. These two children however, didn't take the guns from their parents but they asked a friend who was eighteen years old, and thus an adult, to purchase the guns and give them to them.


The blame for such an act must go, in my opinion, to the parents because they could have prevented it by not allowing their children having guns, and in this case of the Columbine High School the children had mental problems and there should have been treatment for them in order not to have such a behavior against other people. Generally I believe that a young person when committing a crime logically, must not be convicted to death, but as I have already mentioned, when taking that kind of decision there are a lot of things that must be considered, and there are also so many cases of different capital crimes.