Children are different from adults. That is why society does not
allow them to buy tobacco or alcohol, own a handgun, serve in combat
With few exceptions, a general rule of law is that parents have
an obligation to financially support their children until age 18
when they would be considered adults.
The Florida Catholic Conference joins other voices supporting the
passage by the Florida Legislature of SB 224 and HB 63, with no
amendments, which would make the death penalty an authorized
punishment only for those who are 18 years of age or older at the
time they committed a capital crime.
Our hearts go out to the victims of a horrible crime, and serious
crime deserves significant punishment. Few of us know the pain felt
by those who have lost a loved one. Thoughts of revenge are often
the immediate reaction. Just as God put a mark on Cain to protect
him from those who would seek revenge for the death of his brother
Abel, we need to put punishment in the proper perspective for youth
who have not reached maturity.
Advances in science have revealed that the brain continues to
develop up until the early 20s. Immaturity and impulsiveness of
emotions, in addition to the hormone and emotional changes to the
body, are indications that adolescents have not yet achieved
adulthood; therefore, they should be judged as having less
culpability for their actions. Life in prison without possibility of
parole is an alternative available in the criminal justice system.
All people are created in the image and likeness of God, but
everyone is not given the same gifts nor do they end up in a home
where they are loved and nurtured. A 2003 study of juvenile
offenders published in the Juvenile Correctional Mental Health
Report found that more than 30 percent of death row juvenile
offenders suffered from at least four significant life-altering
traumas. Among them were abuse or neglect, psychiatric disorders,
substance addiction, family dysfunction or poverty.
Moreover, such mitigating evidence was presented in less than
half of the offenders' trials. Most children under 18 have not had
to cope with even one of these traumatic experiences.
Evolving standards of decency played a key role in the abolition
of the execution of mentally retarded in a Virginia case, taking
into consideration laws in effect in 30 states banning this
Momentum is building nationally for a ban on executing juveniles
as 13 other states, in addition to Florida, introduced legislation
to ban the juvenile death penalty in 2003. Recently Montana,
Indiana, South Dakota and Wyoming added their names to the list of
31 states that do not allow execution for 16- and 17-year-old
Poll results released in December 2003 by ABC News regarding
Americans' opinion on the fate of "sniper" Lee Malvo were in favor
of life imprisonment, rather than death - the same as the verdict
rendered by the Virginia jury that heard all the testimony about his
participation in these heinous crimes.
Florida has not executed a juvenile offender since 1954, and
there are only three juvenile offenders on Death Row. We urge
senators and representatives to take up this legislation, which has
passed in at least one of the Florida chambers in 2000, 2001 and
2003. In the near future, a Missouri case will be before the U.S.
Supreme Court, which could declare execution of juveniles "cruel and
Let's stand up now "for the least among us" and choose to end
capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-old offenders.
Sheila S. Hopkins is associate for social
concerns for the Forida Catholic Conference in Tallahassee. Contact
her at email@example.com.