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Juveniles and the Death Penalty

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2000
16 pages
The appropriateness of the death penalty for juveniles is the subject of intense debate, despite U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding its use; although nearly half the States allow those who commit capital crimes at age 16 and 17 years to be sentenced to death, some question whether this is compatible with principles on which the juvenile justice system was established.
Since the passage of revised death penalty statutes in the last quarter of the 20th century and during recent periods of increased violent crime, a shift in the juvenile justice system has occurred toward stronger policies and punishments. This shift has included the waiver or transfer of more juvenile offenders to criminal court than in the past. Increasing number of capital offenders, including juveniles who committed capital offenses prior to their 18th birthday, are now subject to absolute sentences, such as the death penalty and life in prison without parole. Currently, 38 States authorize the death penalty; 23 States permit the execution of offenders who committed capital offenses prior to their 18th birthday. Laws governing the application of the death penalty in the 23 States, however, vary and the variation is not necessarily tied to juvenile crime rates. Further, debate about juvenile capital punishment has become more intense, in light of calls for the harsher punishment of serious and violent juvenile offenders. The bulletin examines the history of juvenile capital punishment and relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions and also includes profiles of those sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles. The bulletin also looks at the status of capital punishment in the sentencing of individuals who commit crimes as juveniles and notes state-by-state differences in sentencing options. Finally, the bullet notes the international movement toward abolishing juvenile capital punishment. 24 references, 23 endnotes, and 5 tables

Date Published: November 1, 2000