Since the beginning of the 17th century, close to 300 minors (aged 18 years and below) have been executed through the death penalty in the United States. By the year 2004, there were 71 persons on death row judged for juvenile crimes. This population represented about 2% of 3,487 people on the death penalty in the United States, and their respective ages ranged between 16 and 17 years at the time when the crimes were committed. It is unfortunate that these minors were sentenced to death for a period ranging between 4 months and 24 years in 12 different states within the United States. By then, Texas was leading with 40% of the total national death sentences for juveniles (Cunningham & Vigen, 2011). Since then, the juvenile death penalty or sentence has been outlawed in the United States and over the world. This study focuses on whether the juvenile death penalty has any impact on minors, especially those aged between 16 and 21 years.
Implications to 16 and 21-Year Olds
Today, the law exempts children from the death penalty in many parts of the United States of America. This is more feasible for individuals before the age of 16. However, the law does not prohibit the same minors aging between the years 16 and 21. Despite this, it is clearly evident that there are salient issues that justify the exemption of children aging between 16 and 21 years from the death penalty in the United States of America. One of these reasons emanates from the legal reasoning in the criminal procedures of dealing with juvenile offenders in the country. They equally emanate from the psychological and mental status of such individuals which are totally different from adults.
Adolescence refers to the period of transition from childhood to adulthood. During this period, the child is becoming an adult slowly but he or she has not become an adult yet. Teenagers are often at crossroads of their emotions, hormones, judgments, and identities while associating with others in society. They are at the time in search of their identities, which means they actually are using their peers and relatives. Thus, the legal framework in the country ought to consider these psychological, mental, emotional and social issues among such minors when making legislation concerning crimes committed by such individuals as well as the penalties that they impose on them. It is on this basis that the law prohibits such individuals from entering into contracts, marrying, consuming alcohol or even exercising a voting right.
Minors aging from 16 to 21 years cannot be assumed fully mature to make a legal decision. After the attainment of full age, these individuals are thought to have matured. This implies that in the imposition of death penalties, their mental development status ought to be put into consideration (American Bar Association, 2014).
The brain of a human being is among three complex compounds. It is based on the understanding that it governs countless courses of action, such as voluntary and involuntary, physical and emotional. The biggest part of the human brain is the frontal lobe. Prefrontal lobes control most of the advanced functions. Today, scientists are employing magnetic resonance imaging in the study of the brain. The use of this technology has revealed that the teenage brain undergoes a high level of intense production of the gray matter. This refers to the brain tissue, which is used in thinking.
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This process means that the development of the brain continues until the early 20s. Hence, an individual between the age of 16 and 21 years lacks the same thinking ability, which is proper for the individual above this age. This also implies that individuals of this age bracket should not be put to the same criminal procedures as rigor as adults. Consequently, practicing the death penalty of such individuals would be against the natural course of justice, as it would be done to a person without the capacity to think adequately (American Bar Association, 2014).
Reconsideration of the criminal procedures on children is equally based on the environmental factors. The environments in which individuals between the age of 16 and 21 years live significantly influence their behavior. It results in behavior, which is predetermined by an underdeveloped brain. For instance, they may be enticed by adults to engage in activities, which can turn into capital crimes and result in the death sentence. Moreover, these people, due to their underdeveloped brain, lack the ability to make a fully mature decision. Consequently, the death penalty of such individuals would be illegal as other people only use them when they have the ability to make a judgment for committing the crime, which does not depend on teenagers’ own initiatives (American Bar Association, 2014).
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Factors that Negate Juvenile Death Penalties
There are various factors that cause the negating of juvenile death penalties among persons aging between 16 and 21. One of the clinical studies that were carried out by Cunningham and Vigen (2011) indicates that a significant number of individuals who had been taken in for juvenile death penalty had psychological injuries, which could have the potential to adversely impair their judgment. Others exhibited conditions such as psychiatric problems or neurological dysfunction. These factors have a high potential of inducing such individuals to make irrational decisions.
A significant number of individuals under the clinical study had been engaged in abuse by superiors, which indicates their psychological torture and potential of not being in a condition to make sound decisions (Cunningham & Vigen, 2011). With their underdeveloped brains, these individuals may not be equal in a position to understand instances such as family violence and may end up reacting in an irrational manner. This shows that there are so many situations when immature minds may not act rationally. Consequently, their penalties should be mitigated as the actions were undertaken by people with unbalanced minds (Shoemaker, 2013).
The legal system needs to focus on other remedies for individuals between the ages of 16 to 21 years. It is often understood that crime among these individuals is not based on their full intent to commit a crime but on other factors that face them. Some of them are victims of depression as a result of the family quarrels. Unlike adults, they lack the ability to cope even with the slightest depression. Thus, they may unconsciously engage in activities, such as attacking someone who reminds them of the depressing situation. Consequently, they may end up committing crimes that qualify for the death sentence.
When the state opts to pass the death penalty on individuals between these ages, there is a need for the state to consider the mental status of people between the age of 16 and 21 years. The state law does not hang individuals for crimes they commit if it is proved that they have mental problems (Burfeind & Bartusch, 2011). While this group of individuals does not have mental problems, they have mental underdevelopment. Consequently, they deserve special legal treatment as individuals below the age of 16 years though on a graduated scale. This would make sure the government does not punish individuals for things that they do not understand (Siegel & Welsh, 2014).
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From these indications, the turmoil associated with these adolescents that can often result in poor decision making is evident. For instance, a study shows that due to poor reasoning, 20% of students in high school do consider suicide. Terminating life or suicide, in this case, is a third-factor causing death among minors or teenagers. All this indicates that the teen years are a period of significant mental as well as physical transition. When these challenges in the transition process are coupled with abuse, poverty, and neglect, the chances that persons aging between 16 and 21 years will make irrational decisions are high. Their capability to make prudent decisions is reduced significantly.
These indications show that people below the age of 21 years are less morally capable of the actions that they take than adults are. These people are equally more capable of change as well as rehabilitation. There is a need to engage such individuals in punishments for their violent crimes while at the same time lessening their culpability. The death penalty is one of the most strict penalties for individuals. Hence, understanding the need to reduce liability among adolescents, persons aging between 16 and 21 years are not supposed to be judged the death penalty even if the law puts them on death row for crimes they may have committed in affective state.
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