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Law School Case Brief

Roper v. Simmons - 543 U.S. 551, 125 S. Ct. 1183 (2005)

Rule:

A majority of states have rejected the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18, and the Supreme Court of the United States holds this is required by the Eighth Amendment

Facts:

At age 17, respondent Simmons planned and committed a capital murder. After he had turned 18, he was sentenced to death. His direct appeal and subsequent petitions for state and federal postconviction relief were rejected. In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 153 L. Ed. 2d 335, 122 S. Ct. 2242, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Eighth Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibited the execution of a mentally retarded person. Simmons filed a new petition for state postconviction relief, arguing that Atkins' reasoning established that the Constitution prohibited the execution of a juvenile who was under 18 when he committed his crime. The Supreme Court of Missouri agreed and set aside Simmons' death sentence in favor of life imprisonment without eligibility for release. It held that, although Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361, 106 L. Ed. 2d 306, 109 S. Ct. 2969, rejected the proposition that the Constitution barred capital punishment for juvenile offenders younger than 18, a national consensus has developed against the execution of those offenders since Stanford.

Issue:

Does the Eight Amendment forbid the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States 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 prohibited the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18.

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