Roper v. Simmons
Death penalty is one of the most controversial legislative issues today. It is allowed in many states of the U.S. and prohibited in Europe at all. The idea of penalizing criminals with taking life cannot be simple by default - too many specific details must be considered before killing a person can be allowed by law. The case of Roper v. Simmons illustrates the situation where a young man of 17 years of age was sentenced to death in 1993. The facts of the case are as follows.
Christopher Simmons, 17 years old, developed the plan with the aim to murder Shirley Crook. He involved two other boys younger than him - John Tessmer and Charles Benjamin. The idea was to murder the victim after committing break and enter into the house of Mrs. Crook. The murder was supposed to happen via tying up Shirley Crook and getting rid of the victim by throwing her off the bridge (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004). Simmons and his accomplices gathered at about midnight to fulfill their plan. One of the boys, Tessmer, did not join the plan and dropped out. Young criminals broke into the house of Mrs. Crook, covered her eyes, and tied her hands. After that, they put her in the suspects' car, drove to the closest bridge in a state park, and tossed Shirley Crook off this bridge (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004).
Simmons admitted that he had murdered Mrs. Crook showing premeditation. Tessmer testified against Simmons as well. The suspect reenacted the entire process during the investigation process. As the result, Simmons was found guilty (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004). The jury's consultations ended with recommendation of a death sentence, approved by the trial court. Simmons appealed to the court with statement that his counsellor had been ineffective, that his (Simmons') background and impulsiveness were the part of the problem, leading to the crime, and that all these issues were supposed to be mentioned in the court before the sentence was voiced. However, the court rejected the claim of the suspect.
The case, however, was not closed. It made its way through the court system until 2002. The courts still decided to leave the sentence unchanged, in other words, death sentence would remain. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the case of Atkins v. Virginia where the death sentence was overturned since the convicted murderer was mentally retarded. The case was based on the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, stating that such a cruel and unusual punishment could not be approved by the American people. The death sentence for Simmons was replaced with life sentence without the right for parole (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004).
The issue is noteworthy because of the fact of changing the death penalty for life imprisonment because Simmons was juvenile when the murder was committed. According to another case, Stanford v. Kentucky of 1989, the convicts of 16 and 17 years of old were punished by death penalty. In case of the same 1989, Penry v. Lynaugh, the mentally retarded suspect was found guilty and penalized by death - it was acceptable for the U.S. citizens back then (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004). The reason why Simmons was spared is in the evolving moral standards of the U.S. people.
Considering the prohibition of death penalty for juveniles in 2005, the death penalty standard for Mississippi State is 18 years of age. The case of Roper v. Simmons was the turning point for Mississippi Court in terms of convicting juveniles of the age under 18 to the death sentence cases (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004). It is clear that legislative approval of killing young people under 18 years of age is not possible anymore due to the changes in the attitude of the U.S. people to such a penalty. As it has already been mentioned, 8th and 14th Amendments are applicable in this case already after the case of Atkins v. Virginia, where retards and mentally ill convicts cannot be penalized by death - it is a cruel and unusual punishment (Legal Information Institute, 2005; Oyez, 2004). It should be noted that the last juvenile criminal who was actually executed in Mississippi State was Pulliam John, 17 years old young man, black. He was a laborer, who had committed murder and burglary. He was found guilty and executed via electrocution on May 25, 1950 in Mississippi State prison (Blanco, 2005).
Now, according to the Mississippi Court standards, only three categories of crimes committed by juveniles can lead for transferring a juvenile to adult court for trial. They are as follows: "murder, rape, or armed robbery" (Moore, 2011). Juvenile penitentiary system is built on the principles that must rehabilitate children-criminals and give them another chance in life. According to Reaves (2001), "The juvenile prison system can help kids turn their lives around; rehabilitation gives kids a second chance. Therefore, in most cases it is far more appropriate for these lost young people than going straight to the adult prison (Reaves, 2001; Allen, 2009).
Any prison is a scary and dangerous place - it limits one of the fundamental freedoms of any human being - freedom. It is designed in such a way in order to make people think before getting into risk of being put into prison for years of their life. However, young people might not have the right experience to realize that their actions can have utterly serious consequences. Therefore, it is highly possible that kids should not be treated like adults in terms of equal imprisonment.