News Release

Responses to Supreme Court Ban of Death Penalty in Juvenile Cases


Executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system, Stevenson said today: “About 8 percent of the death penalty cases here in Alabama are juvenile cases, so for us here, today’s Supreme Court decision is a huge victory. It’s important for the U.S. to signal at least some respect for international norms; this was so extreme — even places where the death penalty is still practiced like China and the Mideast, children are not executed. It is incredible to watch a juvenile case develop as the child matures. The person facing the death penalty in many ways is not the person who committed the crime. Redemption is possible for all, but particularly for these cases.”
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Assistant director of The Sentencing Project and author of the book Race to Incarcerate, Mauer said today: “The Supreme Court’s decision continues the national momentum towards reconsideration of the death penalty in the United States. In recent years, we have witnessed the Court striking down the use of the death penalty for mentally retarded persons, the commutation of all death sentences by Governor Ryan in Illinois, and a slowing imposition of death sentences nationally. Notably, writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy describes evolving international norms opposing juvenile executions as a factor in the Court’s decision.”
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Robert Meeropol and his brother Michael Meeropol are the only people in the U.S. to have both their parents (Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) executed. Robert Meeropol is now the executive director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children. He said today: “Any limiting of the death penalty is a step in the right direction. But this case, as others, demonstrates once again the arbitrary nature of the death penalty. So now it’s unconstitutional to execute someone who is convicted of having murdered one second short of their 18th birthday; but it is not necessarily unconstitutional to execute someone who is convicted of having murdered one second after his 18th birthday. People will say you have to draw the line somewhere; I say you draw the line by not having the death penalty.”

Meeropol continued: “Many of us in the U.S. have been debating the death penalty as a strategic question — hoping that by pointing out that innocent people might suffer the death penalty we might convince others to oppose it. The reality, I’m increasingly convinced, is that we need to see capital punishment as a human rights abuse, and I think it’s the most basic human rights abuse, the pre-meditated destroying of a living, breathing human being.

“Until we see that, there will be politically expedient circumstances, perhaps following a horrific event, when calls for capital punishment will triumph. It’s noteworthy in the wake of 9/11 there were no calls in Europe for reconstituting the death penalty. They view the death penalty as a human rights violation and human rights abuses are never acceptable.

“We need to understand our own hypocrisy — passing judgement on the human rights records of countries all over the world while we pretend that we don’t have a policy that backs torture; while pretending we don’t have a policy of rendition — moving people to countries where they will be tortured; while pretending that the conditions at Guantanamo are humane. The hypocrisy is there for all to see, we fool no one but ourselves.

“The aggressive pursuit of capital punishment is part of an overall policy that demonstrates this administration’s horrible record on human rights and our national complicity in it.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167