Doing Crime Without Time

, Anthony Kang, Leave a comment

The rule of law is imperative in order for any nation and society to function, prosper, and survive. In regards to the law and order most appropriate and just for juvenile offenders under the age of 18, decisions about sentencing are delegated to the juvenile court systems for judgment and rehabilitation.

Therefore, the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision was highly scrutinized, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision banned capital punishment’s applicability against defendants who were held on trial for crimes they had originally committed under the age of 18.

Special-interest activist groups, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and NAACP—have lobbied for a legislation to extend the court’s decision, and ban the possibility of life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders. Opposition to the legislation mainly consists of local groups representing victims, prosecutors, and police.

Charles D. Stimson, Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and leading expert in criminal law, military law, military commissions and detention policy, and Andrew. M. Grossman, Senior Legal Policy Analyst at Heritage, have published a comprehensive landmark report entitled Adult Time for Adult Crimes which addresses the issue of juvenile crime, and thoroughly undermines the premise of the aforementioned activists.

The Roper v. Simmons decision is largely attributable to the Court’s application of the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and has become the foundation for activists’ call to change the federal law recognized by 43 states and the District of Columbia which set the maximum punishment for juveniles at life without the possibility of parole.

Unfortunately, during the Roper case, the Court specifically considered ‘the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty,’ as well as the trend among foreign countries, according to Stimson and Grossman.

“Applying that basic formulation to LWOP demonstrates the 8th Amendment’s impotence in the instant policy debate. It is wholly inapplicable,” the Heritage experts state in their report. “Imprisonment of juveniles has a long historical pedigree, well predating this nation’s founding. Further, LWOP, simply lacks ‘the evil that the 8th Amendment targets…intentional infliction of gratuitous pain.’ Without any aspect of ‘unnecessary cruelty,’ the 8th Amendment is simply unavailing.”

The scrutiny with which many have attacked the U.S. legal system has continuously challenged America’s legacy, identity, rule of law, and sovereignty. As witnessed most recently by the controversy swirling around the Supreme Court’s newest justice Sonia Sotomayor, groups fighting against LWOP sentences for juveniles vociferously using international laws and norms in their cause, often citing the legitimacy and significance of western laws only when it coincides with their agenda, as they point to the fact most western and European nations do not sentence LWOP for juveniles.

“Activists turn to international law to challenge LWOP for juvenile offenders, relying on the aspirational language that is often present in treaties to advance their domestic political agendas,” Stimson and Grossman write. “In this, they ignore almost every rule about the relationship between international agreements and U.S. law. Most treaties are not (‘self-executing,’) which means that they can be enforced in domestic courts only to the extent that they have been implemented by statutes.”

Moreover, none of the state supreme courts and federal courts which have considered the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to LWOP have also concluded that it violates the 8th Amendment. Five federal courts have consistently reached the same conclusion, and have not struck down LWOP sentences juveniles have received as “unconstitutional.”

“How a society prevents and punishes violent crimes committed by juvenile offenders is a matter of immense public interest and importance,” the Heritage report promulgates. “Any debate that seeks to advance public understanding of criminal punishment must be based on facts and reasonable interpretations of the law.”

“The sentence is employed sparingly, in response to only the most grievous conduct, no serious claim can be made that its application is so disproportionate as to preclude its use altogether,” the analysis says, claiming adult courts and LWOP are reserved only for the most wanton, remorseless, and cruel juveniles.

Though prison overcrowding is without a doubt a major problem and tremendous financial burden on America, convicted persons in America on average actually serve less time in prison than the world average and European average—according to U.N. statistics, Europeans served an average of 30.89 months, compared to the 28-month average in the U.S.

Anthony Kang is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.