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Roper v. Simmons

Supreme Court of the United States

October 13, 2004, Argued ; March 1, 2005, Decided

No. 03-633

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

Respondent juvenile committed murder at the age of 17. He was tried and sentenced to death. He filed a petition for state postconviction relief, arguing that the reasoning forbidding the execution of mentally retarded persons established that U.S. Const. amend. VIII also prohibited the execution of a juvenile who was under 18 when the crime was committed. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed. Certiorari was granted.


The Court began with a review of objective indicia of consensus on juvenile capital punishment, as expressed by the enactments of legislatures that had addressed the question. Thirty states had prohibited the juvenile death penalty: 12 that had rejected the death penalty altogether and 18 that had maintained it but, by express provision or judicial interpretation, excluded juveniles from its reach. The Court noted that even in the 20 states without a formal prohibition on executing juveniles, the practice was infrequent. The Court held that this provided sufficient evidence that American society viewed juveniles as categorically less culpable than the average criminal and went on to provide three reasons: (1) the lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility were found in youth more often than in adults and were more understandable among the young; (2) juveniles were more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure; and (3) the character of a juvenile was not as well formed as that of an adult. The Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18.


The judgment setting aside the sentence of death imposed upon the respondent was affirmed.

LexisNexis® Headnotes



Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Rights > Cruel & Unusual Punishment

HN1  Cruel & Unusual Punishment

See U.S. Const. amend. VIII.


Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Rights > Cruel & Unusual Punishment

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > State Application

HN2  Cruel & Unusual Punishment

The Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.


Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Rights > Cruel & Unusual Punishment

Criminal Law & Procedure > Sentencing > Cruel & Unusual Punishment

HN3  Cruel & Unusual Punishment

The Eighth Amendment guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions. The right flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense. By protecting even those convicted of heinous crimes, the Eighth Amendment reaffirms the duty of the government to respect the dignity of all persons.

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543 U.S. 551 ; 125 S. Ct. 1183 ; 161 L. Ed. 2d 1 ; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 2200 ; 73 U.S.L.W. 4153; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 131



State ex rel. Simmons v. Roper, 112 S.W.3d 397, 2003 Mo. LEXIS 123 (Mo., 2003)

Disposition: Affirmed.