- Roper v. Simmons
Litigants=Roper v. Simmons
FullName=Donald P. Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center, Petitioner v. Christopher Simmons
Citation=125 S. Ct. 1183; 161 L. Ed. 2d 1; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 2200; 73 U.S.L.W. 4153; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 131
Prior=Defendant convicted, motion for postconviction relief denied, Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri; affirmed, 944 S. W. 2d 165 (Mo. 1997) (en banc), certiorari denied, 522 U. S. 953 (1997). Denial of petition for a writ of habeas corpus affirmed, 235 F. 3d 1124 (CA8), certiorari denied, 534 U. S. 924 (2001). Petition for a writ of habeas corpus granted, 112 S. W. 3d 397 (Mo. 2003) (en banc), certiorari granted, 540 U. S. 1160 (2004)
Holding=The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed. Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed.
JoinMajority=Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV
"Roper v. Simmons", ussc|543|551|
2005was a decision in which the Supreme Court of the United Statesheld that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishmentfor crimes committed while under the age of 18. The 5-4 decision overruled the Court's prior ruling upholding such sentences on offenders above the age of 16, in " Stanford v. Kentucky", 492 U.S. 361 (1989).
This case, which originated in
Missouri, involved Christopher Simmons, who in 1993at the age of 17 concocted a plan to murder Shirley Crook, bringing two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plot. The plan was to commit burglaryand murderby breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and tossing the victim off a bridge. The three met in the middle of the night; however, Tessmer then dropped out of the plot. Simmons and Benjamin broke into Mrs. Crook's home, bound her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state parkand threw her off a bridge.
Once the case went to trial, the evidence was overwhelming. Simmons had confessed to the murder, performed a videotaped reenactment at the crime scene, and there was testimony from Tessmer against him that showed
premeditation(he discussed the plot in advance and later bragged about the crime). The juryreturned a guilty verdict. Even considering mitigating factors (no criminal history, sympathy from Simmons' family, and most significantly for the later appeal, his age), the jury nonetheless recommended a death sentence, which the trial court imposed. Simmons first moved for the trial court to set aside the conviction and sentence, citing, in part, ineffective assistance of counsel. His age, and thus impulsiveness, along with a troubled background were brought up as issues that Simmons claimed should have been raised at the sentencing phase. The trial court rejected the motion, and Simmons appealed.
The case worked its way up the court system, with the courts continuing to uphold the death sentence. However, in light of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in "Atkins v. Virginia", 536 U.S. 304 (
2002), that overturned the death penalty for the mentally retarded, Simmons filed a new petition for state post conviction relief, and the Supreme Court of Missouriconcluded that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders" and sentenced Simmons to life imprisonment without parole.
The State of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. (Donald P. Roper, the Superintendent of the correctional facility where Simmons was held, was a party to the action because it was brought as a petition for a writ of
The case was argued on
October 13, 2004. The appeal challenged the constitutionality of capital punishment for persons who were juveniles when their crimes were committed, citing the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Previously, a 1988 Supreme Court decision "
Thompson v. Oklahoma" barred execution of offenders under the age of 16. In 1989, another case, " Stanford v. Kentucky" upheld the possibility of capital punishment for offenders who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed the capital offense. The same day in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in the case " Penry v. Lynaugh", that it was permissible to execute the mentally retarded. However, in 2002, that decision was overruled in " Atkins v. Virginia", where the Court held that evolving standards of decency had made the execution of the mentally retarded cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional.
Under the "evolving standards of decency" test, the Court held that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy cited a body of sociological and scientific research ref|research that found that juveniles have a lack of maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults. Adolescents were found to be overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior. The Court noted that in recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every state prohibited those under age 18 from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. The studies also found that juveniles are also more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. They have less control, or experience with control, over their own environment. They also lack the freedom that adults have, in escaping a criminogenic setting.
In support of the "national consensus" position, the Court noted the increasing infrequency with which states were applying capital punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the decision, 20 states had the juvenile death penalty on the books, but only six states had executed prisoners for crimes committed as juveniles since 1989. Only three states had done so in the past 10 years:
Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Furthermore, five of the states that allowed the juvenile death penalty at the time of the 1989 case had since abolished it.
The Court also looked to international law to support the holding. Since 1990, only seven other countries –
Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China– have executed defendants who were juveniles at the time of their crime. Justice Kennedy noted that since 1990 each of those countries had either abolished the death penalty for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice, and that the U. S. stood alone in allowing execution of juvenile offenders. The Court also noted that only the U. S. and Somaliahad not ratified Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(September 2, 1990), which expressly prohibits capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles.
In drawing the line at 18 years of age for actions with death eligibility, the Supreme Court considered that 18 is also where the law draws the line between minority and adulthood for a multitude of other purposes, overturning its holding in "Stanford v. Kentucky" that such a consideration was irrelevant.
Justice Scalia wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. Justice O’Connor also wrote a dissenting opinion. The dissents put into question whether a “national consensus” had indeed formed among the state laws, citing the fact that at the time of the ruling only 18 of 38 death penalty states (47%) prohibited the execution of juveniles.
However, the primary objection of the Court's two originalists, Justices Scalia and Thomas, was whether such a consensus was relevant. Justice Scalia argued that the appropriate question was not whether there was presently a consensus against the execution of juveniles, but rather whether the execution of such defendants was considered cruel and unusual at the point at which the
Bill of Rightswas ratified.
In addition, Justice Scalia also objected in general to the Court's willingness to take guidance from foreign law in interpreting the Constitution; his dissent questioned not only the relevance of foreign law, but also accused the Court of "invok [ing] alien law when it agrees with one's own thinking, and ignor [ing] it otherwise," noting that in the case of
abortionU.S. laws are less restrictive than the international norm. In a roundtable discussion with Justice Breyer, at American University-Washington College of Law, Justice Scalia posed the question: "what is the criterion for whether or not to adopt foreign precedent? That it agrees with you?"
Scalia also attacked the majority opinion as being fundamentally anti-democratic. His dissent cited a passage from the
Federalist Papersin arguing that the role of the judiciary in the constitutional scheme is to interpret the law as formulated in democratically selected legislatures. He argued that the Court exists to rule on what the law "says", not what it "should" say, and that it is for the "legislature", acting in the manner prescribed in Article V of the Constitution, to offer amendments to the Constitution in light of the evolving standard of decency, not for the "Court" to arbitrarily make "de facto" amendments. He challenged the right of unelected lawyers to discern moral values and to impose them on the people in the name of flexible readings of the constitutional text.
The majority ruling highlighted several controversies in the field of constitutional
jurisprudence.While the Supreme Court did not cite specific research studies, their arguments are well-grounded in the substantial body of scientific and sociological research that recognizes the mental/developmental differences between adults and adolescents. In fact, neither the majority nor dissenting opinions put the research into question. The references listed below go into great detail about these differences, the development of the human mind, and its capacity for judgment which might not fully mature until the age of 25.::*cite journal |last=Cauffman |first=Elizabeth |authorlink= |coauthors=Steinberg, Laurence |year=2001 |month= |title=(Im)maturity of Judgment in Adolescence: Why Adolescents May Be Less Culpable Than Adults |journal=Behavioral Sciences & the Law |volume=18 |issue=6 |pages=741–760 |doi=10.1002/bsl.416 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ::*cite journal |last=Scott |first=Elizabeth S. |authorlink= |coauthors=Grisso, Thomas |year=1997 |month= |title=Evolution of Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice Reform |journal=Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology |volume=88 |issue=1 |pages=137–189 |doi=10.2307/1144076 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ::*cite journal |last=Sowell |first=Elizabeth R. |authorlink= |coauthors=Thompson, Paul M.; Tessner, Kevin D.; Toga, Arthur W. |year=2001 |month= |title=Mapping Continued Brain Growth and Gray Matter Density Reduction in Dorsal Frontal Cortex: Inverse Relationships during Postadolescent Brain Maturation |journal=Journal of Neuroscience |volume=21 |issue=22 |pages=8819–8829 |id= |url=http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/21/22/8819 |accessdate= |quote= ::*National Institute of Mental Health. (2001). [http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/teenbrain.cfm Teenage Brain: A work in progress, A brief overview of research into brain development during adolescence] . "NIH Publication No. 01-4929".::*Gerencher, Kristen (Feb. 2, 2005). "Understand your teen's brain to be a better parent". "Detroit Free Press".] The first is the use of the concept of an evolving "national consensus" to allow for the re-interpretation of previous rulings. What constitutes evidence for such a consensus—and from where the judicial branch derives its authority to determine it and implement it into law, a function constitutionally vested in the legislative branch—especially in the case of capital punishment, is unclear at this point. In "Roper v. Simmons" the majority cited the abolishment of juvenile capital punishment in 30 states (18 of the 38 allowing capital punishment) as evidence of such a consensus. In " Atkins v. Virginia" it was the "consensus" of the 30 states (18 of 38 allowing capital punishment) that had banned execution of the mildly retarded.
Another controversy is the role of foreign laws and norms in the interpretation of U.S. law. In 2004 Representative Tom Feeney (FL) introduced a non-binding resolution instructing the judiciary to ignore foreign precedent when making their rulings: "This resolution advises the courts that it is improper for them to substitute foreign law for American law or the American Constitution. To the extent they deliberately ignore Congress' admonishment, they are no longer engaging in 'good behavior' in the meaning of the Constitution and they may subject themselves to the ultimate remedy, which would be impeachment." [ [http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4506232/ A flap over foreign matter at the Supreme Court] - MSNBC]
Beltway Sniper Case
The implications of this ruling were immediately felt in the State of
Virginia, where Lee Boyd Malvois no longer eligible for the death penalty for his role in the Beltway sniper attacksthat terrorized the Washington, D.C.area in October 2002. At the time of the attacks, Malvo was 17 years old. He had already been spared the death penalty in his first trial for the murder of FBI employee Linda Franklin in Falls Church, Virginia, and pleaded guilty in another case in Spotsylvania County, he had yet to face trial in Prince William County, Virginia, as well as in Maryland, Louisianaand Alabama. In light of this Supreme Court decision, the prosecutors in Prince William County have decided not to pursue the charges against Malvo. At the outset of the Beltway sniper prosecutions, the primary reason for extraditing the two suspects from Maryland, where they were arrested, to Virginia, was the differences in how the two states deal with the death penalty. While the death penalty is allowed in Maryland, it is only applied to persons who were adults at the time of their crimes, whereas Virginia had also allowed the death penalty for offenders who had been juveniles when their crimes were committed.
In Ex parte Adams, 955 So. 2d 1106 (Ala. 2005), the Supreme Court of
Alabamaremanded the death sentence of a juvenile murderer for a rehearing in the lower court in light of the Roper decision, which was released while the Adams case was pending appeal. Justice Tom Parker, who had participated in the prosecution of the case, recused himself. He, however, published an op-ed in The Birmingham Newsto criticize his non-recused colleagues for the decision. "State supreme courts may decline to follow bad U.S. Supreme Court precedents because those decisions bind only the parties to the particular case," wrote Justice Parker.
The State sought review in the Supreme Court, raising a single issue, "Whether this Court should reconsider its decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)." The Supreme Court denied
certiorarion June 19, 2006, without a published dissent, thereby ending the matter.
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 543
* [http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/04pdf/03-633.pdf Roper v. Simmons] - Official U.S. Supreme Court opinion March 1, 2005
* Lane, Charles (March 2, 2005) [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html 5-4 Supreme Court Abolishes Juvenile Executions] "
The Washington Post", p. A01.
* Boorstein, Michelle (October 27, 2004) [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64390-2004Oct26.html Malvo Gets Two More Life Terms, Teen Sniper Enters Plea In Spotsylvania Attacks] "
The Washington Post", p. B01.
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