Monday, January 26, 2009

"Roper v. Simmons: Unveiling Juvenile Purgatory: Is Life Really Better than Death?" by Elizabeth Cepparulo

The following text is the conclusion to the above-titled research paper. Click here to view the text of the entire paper.

Roper v. Simmons
was an important landmark in modern juvenile justice. While abolishing the juvenile death penalty was momentous, it was merely the tip of the iceberg in providing juveniles the privileges they deserve as persons, as well as the rights they deserve as minors.

While violent juvenile offenders are out of place in the juvenile justice system, they appear inappropriate in the adult system as well. Without establishing a separate system for these offenders, juveniles nonetheless require consideration as such in the adult criminal court.

Instead of treating juveniles like adults, just because there is no severe punishment in the juvenile system, it is fundamental to recognize that they are not adults, and should not be denied their status as such.

Mandatory life without parole (LWOP) turns a blind eye to juvenile individuality at sentencing. As a result, the opportunity to present pressing evidence of the juvenile’s psychological and neurological immaturity is thwarted. However, never have the state courts been in such a position of powerlessness to sentence juveniles brought before them.

To deny an individual specific and personal consideration before mandating that he be incarcerated for fifty, sixty, or seventy years is cruel. To deny this right to a child, but not an adult, is unusual.

More than a constitutional privilege, proportionality between crime and punishment is an individual right. The penalogical goals of our system are extraneous if they are not matched to the individual. Punishments that exclusively serve society’s benefit or exclusively that of the juvenile do not yield a productive nor well-designed system of justice.

Judges considering a punishment should consider the rationale behind it, and the balance of benefits to society as well as the individual. Mandatory LWOP only benefits society, and leaves no hope or purpose for rehabilitating the juvenile.

By allowing a proportionality review, and the possibility of life with parole, juveniles are afforded hope. This alone gives them a reason to live, and to learn. It takes little from society; seventy years is still an extreme sentence and one unlikely to permit release before natural death. It is a small alteration for society, yet a large step forward for our nation’s children.

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