Supreme Court Decision Analysis

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In 1993, a female by the name of Shirley Crook was found dead in her home. Authorities arrested 17 year-old Christopher Simmons for the offense. They found that Simmons, in conjunction with two coconspirators, planned the burglarizing, kidnapping and death of Ms. Crook. Prosecutors for the State of Missouri were effective in trying Simmons as an adult, securing both a first-degree murder conviction and a death sentence in criminal court. All possible appeals were exhausted in 2002 by attorneys for the defendant. It was in 2002 that the Supreme Court reviewed Atkins v.

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Virginia. This case disputed the constitutionality of sentencing individuals with mental illness to death. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court found that sentencing defendants proven to be mentally ill was unconstitutional under the Eight and 14th Amendments. Via the reasoning in Atkins v. Virginia, Missouri Supreme Court reassessed the sentencing in Roper v. Simmons and decided that it was unconstitutional pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to sentence a minor to the death penalty. The decision was appealed by the State of Missouri siting Stanford v. Kentucky (492 U.S. 361) and Thompson v. Oklahoma (487 U.S. 815). In Stanford v. Kentucky, an opposed Supreme Court declined the dispute that the United States Constitution prohibits capital punishment in cases where the defendant is 16 years-old-age or older. In Thompson v. Oklahoma, bulk of The Supreme Court determined that “”standards of decency do not sanction the death of criminal offenders under the age of 16 at the time the offense was committed. The Supreme Court expressed that juveniles are not entrusted with the dispensations and responsibilities of adults due to their irresponsibility and lack of morally reprehensible behavior. The state argued that allowing state court to invalidate Supreme Court verdicts using “”evolving standards sets a dangerous precedent. This could lead state courts to overturn other Supreme Court decisions siting state court discretion in interpreting societal observation (Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons, 2005).

Decision and Rationale

The US Supreme Court determined in 2004, 5-4 under the “”evolving standards of decency that sentencing juvenile criminal offenders (individuals 17 years-of-age or younger at the time of their offense) to death is consistent with punitive measures deemed malicious and forbidden under the Eighth Amendment (“”Roper v. Simmons””, n.d.). Presenting for the majority, Justice Kennedy cited sociological and scientific investigation, which determined that minors’ childishness and imprudence rated much higher when compared with their adult counterparts. It is through this logic that most states prohibit adolescents (under 18) from jury duty, participating in the political process or requiring parental acquiescence to enter a matrimonial bond. Studies also found that adolescents retain inferior hegemony in reference to their milieu and do not possess the sovereignty necessary to abscond deplorable surroundings.

Supporting the concept of “”national consensus, Justice Kennedy noted the substantial reduction in capital punishment sentences among all states. Five US states had eliminated capital punishment in juvenile cases since 1989. On the international plain, it was noted that all countries who joined the United Nations except for Somalia and the United States ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifies the prohibition of capital punishment for youth offenders (under 18 years-old). Justice Kennedy named eight countries (including the US) as the only countries to have executed juvenile offenders between 1990 and 2004 (time of the Supreme Court of the United States decision). She also stated that within that timeframe, all the countries identified (excluding the US) either publically denied or abolished capital punishment for juvenile criminal offenders. This meant that the US stood alone in regards to capital punishment for juvenile criminal offenders.


In coming to this decision, the United States Supreme Court set a precedent that, in reference to sentencing juvenile offenders to the death, the opinion of the world community may not have priority but it is important. Referring to the regulations of international authorities and other countries is appropriate when interpreting the prohibition of “”cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court recognized the magnitude of how capital punishment is applied. Capital punishment is meant for individuals who commit the most heinous offenses and whose culpability warrants a consequence as conclusive as execution. Adolescents differ from adults in the realm of maturity and understanding of responsibility exposing youth to more negative behaviors and susceptible to outside pressures (“”Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)””, 2018). Thus in recognizing that juvenile criminal offenders are not the most atrocious offender, the punitory rationalizations for the capital punishment applies to adolescents at a reduced intensity that it does for mature criminal offenders. The remnants of this decision exists beyond the boundaries of Christopher Simmons’ sentence to the death penalty. Seventy-two other cases of juveniles sentenced to death were overturned siting precedent set in Roper v. Simmons. The largest effect of this was felt in Texas where 29 cases or 41% of the national total of 71 adolescent offenders, which sentenced juveniles to death, were overturned and re-sentenced due to this case. In line with national and international accord, individuals under the age of 18 are not afforded the same levels of obligation, freedom and privileges as individuals older than 18 years-of-age. States utilize these accepted deficiencies in comparative maturity and responsibility to exclude adolescents from exercising certain societal privileges. When considering the societal consequences, such measures should remain consistent.

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Supreme Court Decision Analysis. (2020, Jan 24). Retrieved from