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Copyright (c) 1983 Northwestern School of Law
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology

COMMENT: Capital Punishment for Minors: An Eighth Amendment Analysis

Winter, 1983

74 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1471


Helene B. Greenwald



Throughout American history, children and adolescents have been sentenced to death for their crimes. 1 The imposition of death sentences on these young offenders, far from being a practice of the past, is a reality of the present. Eighteen of the 1,137 inmates currently on the nation's death rows 2 committed their crimes when they were under eighteen years old. 3 It is expected that many more youths will receive death sentences in the years ahead. 4 Until recently, little has been said in the capital punishment debate about the constitutionality of imposing the death penalty on minors. 5 The issue, however, increasingly is coming to the attention of the public, 6 the state courts, 7 and even the United States Supreme Court, 8 as adolescents begin to challenge their death sentences on the ground that capital punishment for minors is unconstitutional. 9

Although the Supreme Court has held that the death penalty is not unconstitutional per se, 10 it has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of capital punishment when applied to minors. 11 This Comment examines whether sentencing these young offenders to death violates the excessiveness strand 12 of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the eighth amendment. 13 The Comment first discusses the history, present status, and likely future of capital punishment for minors. 14 With the necessary background thus provided, the Comment then shows that capital punishment for minors violates the eighth amendment because a death sentence is always excessive punishment when ...
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