Death Penalty for Children Essay

death penalty / children / juvenile / rights / Christopher Simmons / Lionel Tate / criminal

Essay Topic:

The vital problem of death penalty for children as one of the most important issues of the contemporary system of justice.

Essay Questions:

Why is death penalty for children considered to be such an important issue?

Can a child take responsibility for a murder?

How can be death penalty for children under 18 justified?

Thesis Statement:

Under these conditions a child should never be sentences to death or a life sentence for they still have a chance to change and re-evaluate their life. If the aim of the prison is to change criminals for better then children under 18 should become the material for changes of the highest priority.


Death Penalty for Children Essay


Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. Juvenile death penalty pre-history

3. Peculiarities of children under 18

4. The rights of children

5. Lionel Tates case

6. The case of Christopher Simmons and other cases

7. Conclusion...

Introduction: The death penalty issue has always been one of the most important issues of the contemporary system of justice. Years ago the majority of the criminals were male over 20, but nowadays the situation has quite changed. Not only grown-ups but also by children who are under 18 years old nowadays commit murders and other terrible crimes. Ordinarily, a young criminal is not applied the same restrictions for his crime as a grown criminal is, nevertheless if it especially goes about capital crimes people start talking about the death penalty for such juveniles.A child always remains a child and if he commits a crime it is not because he has had a good life. It is not the guilt of the children, but their big misfortune. It is a misfortune of not having anybody to love and truly support them and lead them in the correct direction. Along with that it is common knowledge that the period of 11 through 17 is a period of an especially intensive changes both in the organism and the mind of a child. That is why it is not fair to put a child in the same line with a grown up that can be completely responsible for his actions. A child is not mentally capable of comprehending the crime he or she commits. The system of values in the age under 18 is not built yet, other people can easily influence children and the psychic process are not stable yet. Under these conditions a child should never be sentences to death or a life sentence for they still have a chance to change and re-evaluate their life. If the aim of the prison is to change criminals for better then children under 18 should become the material for changes of the highest priority.

2. Juvenile death penalty pre-history

The year of 1988 was an extremely important year of the United States of America in terms of the death penalty for adolescent criminals. Before that time even a fifteen year old could be a subject to a death penalty for capital crimes. The Supreme Court in 1988 refused to use death penalty over those criminals that were under the age of sixteen. Nevertheless the 1988 decision did not influence many states and for instance, the state of Texas1conducted its last death penalty over a juvenile in 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court has always called the execution of children a violation of the Constitution, where a child is every person under the age of eighteen years old. Nowadays 19 out of 51 state allow the conduction of the death penalty over children who are sixteen and seventeen years old. The death penalty of children fewer than eighteen years old is immoral, for killing a child implies killing a weaker human being that simply required supervision and attention from the side of his parents. As each society tends to be more humanistic, the probability of the fact that an eighteen-year-old is as guilty as a grown-up criminal starts being completely neglected. One of the main cases of the modernity was the case of 2004 of Roper v. Simmons. This was a fight between two completely opposite opinions one was that death penalty for juveniles is completely normal, as the capital crimes they commit are sometimes even worse then those committed by the grown criminals; and the other side was that death penalty for juveniles is completely unconstitutional and absolutely immoral as they are only children and not mature grown ups able to be fully responsible for their actions.

3. Peculiarities of children under 18

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association have claimed that facts against the death penalty for children under the age of eighteen.

The main reason of such statement is the fact that the researchers reveals: the prefrontal cortex, situated in the frontal lobe of a human being whish is responsible for the formation of the most important functions of the brain finished its completely formation after everything else, so is the part that forms the longest amount of time [3]. According to the Wall Street Journal the prefrontal cortex is the management center of the human brain as it is the part responsible for the most important function planning, anticipation of the consequences, controlling the impulses and is responsible for abstract thinking. And the most important fact is that this part of the brain is a subject to continuing formation until a human being is twenty-years-old. The second vital piece of information is that the decision making process in adulthood is controlled by amygdala, known as the most primitive part of the human brain and therefore is the center of impulses and emotions.

These facts emphasize the notion that the change of the brain during the period of adolescence is immense and this is the reason young people reveal a big deal of the irrational behavior of the humanity. Children should not be sentences to death as the development and therefore the functioning of the brain is not the same for teenagers and adults. The line for death penalty should be drawn at age 18 because at these age the majority of the processes stabilize and rich the state of full brain formation. Even if a child knows what is not right to do, but he or she may still perform a behavior that would not be socially appropriate and may even damage the lives of other people because of the their mental incapability to evaluate their behavior properly.

4. The rights of children

So, according to the age peculiarities a teenager under the age of eighteen by no means should become a subject of death penalty. Some congressmen still tried to apply death penalty through lethal injection to guilty juveniles sixteen years of age. Such proposed legislations are truly inhumane and break all the moral laws and the rights that every child possesses. In case the Congress approved such legislation as a reaction the protests would have been tremendous, as killing people that have not even reached their mental and physical development potential means killing a person that is not able to take full responsibility for his or her actions.

There is not secret that the United Nations Organization has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and especially its Article 37 whish states that a child should never be a subject to cruel, treatment and punishment. According to this very article the offenders that are below eighteen years of age cannot be sentenced to life in prison or become subjects to death penalty [5]. This convention also states that a child that has committed a crime and is under 18 needs to go through rehabilitation. The possibility for the child being rehabilitated is recognizes a child being a human being and provides that possibility for the child to start his or her life for new. Such rehabilitation gives the second chance for the child and his family, because a child can change due to the fact that the development of the functions in his brain has not stopped yet.

Each human being is born innocent and it is important not to forget that 2/3 of the negative manifestations are acquired from the way parent bring their child up and the childs social environment. If the child has only aggressive and violent examples in his social environment, is not accepted and guided by his parents, not supported by his teachers then the childs personality deforms. For instance it is obvious that if a child is abusive he has a deficit of tactile contact and gentleness. These deformations may have the harshest forms: emotional instability of the child, aggression, and violence against other people. A juvenile is NOT an adult criminal and should never be treated alike, and especially be a subject to death penalty. The death penalty is meant to make criminals scared of committing serious crimes, but in reality this does not work this exact way. It is more important to prevent children from committing crimes and to remember that children do not commit crimes on the basis whether the crime in accordance with the punishment for it put simply reflect what the family and the society have put into his head.

5. Lionel Tates case

Lionel Tates case may without any doubt be called the most well known criminal case of the beginning of the XXI century. Lionel Tate, a teenager was born 1987. At the age of fourteen he was accused of a murder he committed when he was twelve years old, for which he obtained a life-long sentence. The details of the case are the following: at the age of twelve Lionel Tate killed Tiffany Eunick who was six years old. The girl was Tates playmate. The details of the murder are awful the body of the girl has numerous signs of brutality such as injuries one of which is the skull fracture. Lionel Tate was only twelve years old when he committed this murder. It has been announced that the boy was only copying the wrestling moves, but no matter what it was the boy was imitating something that he has seen before either on TV or in real life. The Court found the boy guilty and accused him of a first-degree murder. The punishment for that is a life in prison.

The fact of giving a life sentence to a fourteen-year old shocked the society because everybody understood that a child in his twelve years couldnt be judged as a mentally developed adult. It was for the panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal that a new trial was set in order to identify if Tate comprehended the proceedings held against him. The competency of a fourteen-year-old child to stand the trial was very questionable. The reveled the understanding that such a child cannot be mentally capable of taking responsibility for his own actions. It is obvious that Lionel Tate has committed a serious crime and the consequences of his actions are simply terrible because the life of another child was taken away. None says that the boy should not be punished, but not with death penalty or life in prison. The decision of home arrest and probation is right for Lionel Tate. Lionel Tate deserves being punished but not made to spend his whole lifetime in a prison for a crime he committed when he was twelve years old and could not take full responsibility for his actions and completely realize the consequences of his actions for the little girl and himself. That is the reason this example should always be kept in mind by congressmen before they make another juvenile lethal injection suggestion.

6. The case of Christopher Simmons

One of the most terrifying cases concerning the issue of juvenile death penalty is the case of Christopher Simmons, a seventeen-year-old teenager who in 1993, when he was seventeen years old broke into the house of his neighbor. The moment he got in the house he met face to face with the owner of the house whose name is Shirley Ann Crook, who was forty-six years old at the moment of the crime. To make sure that Shirley Ann Crook will not recognize him the boy bound her with an electrical cord and a duct tape, transported her in a car and threw her into the river of Meramec. Shirley Ann Crook died from drowning. Mr. Simmons committed the whole crime with a fifteen-year-old friend Charles Benjamin. As a consequence, Charles Benjamin was sentences to life in prison, as he was not old enough for death penalty. Correspondingly, Christopher Simmons was convicted and set for death penalty. Lately the Supreme Court of Missouri brought up the Eights Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that is against cruel and unusual punishments and another statement was that Christopher Simmons was not old enough when he was 17 to take full responsibility for his own actions. The majority of people would say that a seventeen-year-old boy must take full responsibility for his terrible crime, but people do forget one essential thing. This boy truly was a CHILD when he committed a crime. A child and no more than that. It is the problem of the contemporary society to start considering children to be grown ups. The modern society creates the need for little children to become mature faster, but the psychological and physiological cannot go faster than the nature has set them. This issue is often forgotten. When a child is in need of anything starting with attention and ending with a child having a stress because of financial troubles he may step on the wrong path but is still not able to be completely responsible for his actions. The artificial acceleration of the process of growing up results in the growing number of juveniles all over the world, so killing will not solve the problem, but only cover its consequences.


According to the Death Penalty Information Center 72 juveniles on death rows were under 18 when they committed the crime they were accused for. It is twenty-nine for Texas, fourteen for Alabama, five for Mississippi, four for Arizona, Louisiana and North Carolina, three for Florida and South Caroline, two for Georgia and Pennsylvania and one for Nevada and Virginia. Such states as Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Delaware and New Hampshire do allow juvenile execution but at the moment do not have any juveniles on death row at the moment [6].

All these criminals were children under eighteen when their crimes were committed. Being under eighteen great changes were happening in the brains and bodies making this people emotionally instable. Other factors gave them the example of how the crime can be committed but their inability to evaluate the consequences and the lack of functionality of the decision-making process lead to a sad end. They all should be punished, in order to firmly understand that committing crimes against other human beings is immoral but their death is not best way out of the problem. Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!

1 As of December 31, 2004, 71 persons were on death row for juvenile crimes. These 71 condemned juveniles constituted about 2% of the total death row population of 3,487. Although all were ages 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes, their current ages range from 18 to 43. They were under death sentences in 12 different states and had been on death row from 4 months to 24 years. Texas had by far the largest death row for juvenile offenders, holding 29 (40%) of the national total of 72 juvenile offenders[2].


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