Juveniles and Mental Disabilities Essay


Severe mental disabilities and juvenile immaturity can result in functional impairments which can reduce the blameworthiness of the defendant. Consequently, the Eight Amendment should dismiss the death penalty for this category and state laws must implement recommendations of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association that ban the death sentence for juvenile and mentally retarded criminal offenders. Furthermore, having the judge make a pretrial determination will be helpful and less severe compared to having the issue tackled by a at the penalty phase. Although capital juries represent public interests, most of them favor the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles and mentally retarded criminal offenders without considering other exonerating circumstances. On the contrary, trial judges take into consideration the public interest regarding the death penalty for juveniles and more objectively than the jury.

Death Penalty

Since 1990, a few nations (i.e. United States, Nigeria, Iran and Pakistan) have imposed the death penalty on offenders who committed crimes when they were mentally disabled or juvenile. Several incidents have recently taken place that (when taken into consideration) suggest it is time to reassess the legality of a juvenile death sentence. First of all, inAtkins vs. Virginia(2002) case, the US that the death penalty imposed on offenders with mental disorders violated the United States Constitution. Some of the justifications provided by the Court for the prohibition relating to the death penalty are imposed on juveniles. Second, following the Court ruling onAtkins vs. Virginiacase, three Supreme Court judges proposed reevaluation of the statutory status of juvenile death sentence, a move which implied substantial discomfort with the current provisions of the law. Finally, following the capture of a serial sniper (aged 17 years) in the Washington precinct, prosecutors sought permission to have the case conducted in Virginia since the state allows juvenile death penalty (Steinberg & Scott, 2003, p. 1009; Ferguson, 2005, p.450).

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There is no doubt that the juvenile death sentence is a crucial topic in juvenile crime policy. However, this paper focuses on whether juvenile and mentally disabled criminal offenders deserve the death penalty like grown-ups who have committed similar offenses. Prominent murder cases, such as the one involving Lionel Tate (a 14-year-old kid) who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his friend in a brawling game, have revitalized public debate regarding juvenile death sentences. Nonetheless, questions regarding the suitable penalty for juvenile offenders have emerged in several minor cases such as nonaggressive offenses like drug peddling (Steinberg & Scott, 2003, p. 1009). Therefore, this paper will review relevant literature and theories to explore the criminal liability of juveniles and mentally disabled offenders.

Mitigation in the Criminal Law

The principle of penal proportionality advocates that fair criminal sentence should correspond to the degree of damage caused by the offender as well as the culpability of the offender. Consequently, the question that merit consideration is how juvenile immaturity and mental disability of the lawbreakers apply to their culpability and which sentence is appropriate for their offenses. To answer this question, we must evaluate the developmental aptitudes and processes pertinent to juvenile criminal choices as well as the conditions that minimize blameworthiness in criminal law (Scott & Steinberg, 2003, p. 799; Ferguson, 2005, p.450).

The the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles and mentally disabled offenders is that it normally focuses on excuses rather than exonerating evidence. It is often presumed that the only substitute to adult retribution of juvenile (or mentally challenged) offenders is no punishment at all. However, we posit that the developmental naivety of youth lessens their blameworthiness and validates more compassionate punishment. However, this should not be taken as a foundation for defense. The public (justifiably) seeks to ensure that mentally challenged and juvenile offenders are punished for their crimes to deter would-be offenders from engaging in similar criminal acts (Steinberg & Scott, 2003, p.1010).

In addition, criminal law doctrine takes into consideration exonerating evidence in various ways when determining the gravity of the crimes as well as the appropriate punishment to be given. For instance, excuses like self-defense, insanity, and duress reveal that the offender can commit a criminal act but be less blameworthy than the adult criminal offenders. Whats more, the law of homicide acknowledges that the sentence for murder offense varies considerably concerning the culpability of the offender. For instance, an individual who commits murder as a result of emotional disorder is only guilty of manslaughter (Steinberg & Scott, 2003, p.1010).

It has been proven that psychological naivety partly explains why juveniles partake in criminal acts. Consider the following incident. A teenager is socializing with his peers when one of his friends suddenly proposes that they mug a bystander to get money and buy alcohol. The teenager rarely undergoes a careful decision-making process butoptsto partake in the act fearing that his status within the group will be compromised if he declines the suggestion. While a grown-up individual will consider the consequences of the criminal act, the teenager may not since he does not have the experience to effectively deal with the current situation. In addition, the teenager may opt to partake in the crime based on instant and tangible rewards of peer approval. The teenager rarely considers the lasting consequences associated with the criminal act (Steinberg & Scott, 2003, p.1013).

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