Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Roper v. Simmons

So i am reading the decision the court just put out. This case is a challenge to the constitutionality of the death sentence as applied to people under 18. More specifically those between 16 and 18 because you can't execute anyone under 16. This decision says that it is now unconstitutional to execute anyone under 18. this post may seem kind of cut up because as I read it, I read a bit of it earlier in the day, I am going to post reactions.
My first reaction is that they claim there is consensus against executing juveniles. They give some different types of evidence to support this claim. I will accept that a majority of states are against it. I dont' think that creates a consensus. I think a consensus being a general agreement of the whole sets a higher burden that just a majority. I think if 45 or 48 of the states were against it then you would have a consensus. In this case 30 are against it. That means 20 allow it. I think this is far from a consensus.
Next the court goes on to say that the death penalty is reserved for the worst offenders. They then give 3 reasons as to why juveniles are generally not the worst offenders based on their age. The court then says "these differences render suspect any conclusion that a juvenile falls among the worst offenders". That is all fine and dandy, but that is what sentencing is for. When in the sentencing phase you can introduce this as evidence as to why this particular offender doesn't deserve the death penalty. Even if it gets past the jury a judge can decide that the defendant has fallen short of the threshold and not apply the death sentence.
They then say that youths are more apt to reform and will stop participating in risky behaviors as they get older. First I don't think those committing murders where the death sentence is a possibility will be in society. They, at the least. will get life with no possibility of parole. Theis being so, why do we care what they will act like in the future. Next they talk about this like they are speeding or shoplifting. This is not risky behavior. This is soulless murdering. Very different.
They say a youth doesn't have the same culpability as an adult. Again I think this should be individually rendered by a jury and a judge. I am sure there is no difference in the culpability of someone who commits a murder a day before their 18 birthday as opposed to someone who commits a murder the day of their 18 birthday.
The court then says that this is no good because even one youth sentenced to death where the jury improperly attenuated his culpability is one too many. My personal feeling is don't commit heinous murders and you don't have to worry about a jury improperly assessing your culbability. Also we ask our jury to make this assessment for adults. I think a lot of this is a foreshadowing of the end of the death penalty itself.
The court then addresses the 18 year cutoff. They say earlier it was drawn at 16. They say society draws it at 18 for other things so they will do that. Basically this is a POLITICAL QUESTION. Why can't a state draw it at 16. There is obviously no constitutional provision that says you are not culpable enough for the death penalty until you are 18. Why not draw it at 21? The court can give you no answer for this.
The worst part of this whole opinion is the giant deference to other countries laws. We have our own Constitution and that is 100% controlling. They say this much, but right after that they ad that other countries laws "provide respected and significant confirmation for our own views". they are saying that since everybody else does it this way then that supports that we are right. I don't like this one bit. First, it shows that they are taking their own political ideals and making them law and saying that it is supported by everybody else. Second, we just interpret our Constitution. No other country has our exact Constitution. I will post later and longer on the use of international law in Supreme Court decisions. I agree with Scalia that it isn't good and shouldn't be done. Breyer needs to freakin quit it. Also don't think this is saying that other courts aren't smart or instructive. I think they are, but we can only decide based on our Constitution and we should be looking to our Constitution for the answers not some decision by a court not controlled by our Constitution.
One more thing about it. The court then says that noting other nations laws just underscores our beliefs. That is not what he is doing. He is using other nation's laws to justify his decision. He is not making a decision and then saying well who would have guessed that other countries think the same way he do. He is trying to sneak in international law which at best can be hoped to be a connondrum.
That is all for the majority opinion. I'll read the dissents and see what they think. Basically I think this is a poor judicial decision. I would like to think it would get overturned, but I think it is the first step in abolishing the death penalty. Lots of signs were prevelant that we will go that way. Then the court will pat itself on the back and say hey nobody else has it so we should interpret our Constitution according to their laws. Some days I am amazed at the wisdom of the Supreme Court and other days I am amazed at how activist they can be.
This is a prime example that tough cases shouldn't make bad law. Have a little faith in our jury system Mr. Kennedy.
All factual statements and quotes came from Roper v. Simmons 543 U.S. ___ (2005) I didn't put in cites because it would take too long, but everything came from that decision.

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