The ruling will toss out the death sentences of 70 juvenile murderers who are currently on death row in the United States. The ban was not totally unexpected, since the court had previously voted to bar the executions of criminals who were under 16 years of age.
In writing for the majority of the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed to the fact that only 19 states allow the execution of juveniles and even in those states juvenile executions are rare. He wrote that the trend in the states has been toward abolishing the practice of executing juveniles.
"Our society views juveniles ... as categorically less culpable than the average criminal," he wrote.
In a scathing dissent, Antonin Scalia wrote that there has been no clear trend of declining juvenile executions to justify a growing consensus against the practice.
"The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: 'In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty,' he wrote in a 24-page dissent. "The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards."
As expected, the four most liberal justices -- John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- joined by Kennedy, voted for the ban. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sandra Day O'Connor voted to continue the executions.
Bragged He Would Get Away With ItThe ruling came in the Missouri case of 17-year-old Christopher Simmons, who was convicted of kidnapping Shirley Cook, tying her up, and throwing her off a bridge. Simmons bragged that he would get away with the crime because of his age.
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a poll conducted on the About.com Crime and Punishment site, 52 percent of those surveyed said they were against abolishing the death penalty for juveniles, while 45 percent supported the ban.
See Also: Death Penalty for Juveniles