NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Death-Penalty Opponents Seize On "Underage" Issue

January 24, 2000

Frustrated by their inability to win court cases and attract more supporters, opponents of the death penalty are concentrating on publicizing executions of persons who committed their crimes when they were less that 18 years old.

"If we can get people interested in the unfairness of the juvenile death penalty," says a spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, "we can branch that out to death row as a whole."

  • Thirty-eight states and the federal government permit the death penalty -- with 15 states and the federal government mandating that a convict must be 18 at the time the crime was committed to be eligible for the death penalty.
  • Twenty-three other states specify a minimum age of 16 or 17.
  • Fifteen of the 607 people executed since the death penalty was restored in 1976 were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.
  • Six of those executions have come in the past 20 months.

About 70 of the estimated 3,630 now on death row committed murder before age 18.

Supreme Court case law presently prevents executing killers who were under 16 when they committed their crimes.

Source: Richard Willing, "Opposition to Executing Juveniles Grows," USA Today, January 24, 2000.


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