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Death penalty was already a doubtful issue as early as at the beginning of the 17th century (Brown, & Bohm, 2012). The issue of human rights violation, when the death sentence is brought into the action, is of high importance and considered by almost every human rights organization as a doubtful question. Nowadays, more than half of all countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or do not apply it in practice.
Death penalty was already a doubtful issue as early as at the beginning of the 17th century (Brown, & Bohm, 2012). The issue of human rights violation, when the death sentence is brought into the action, is of high importance and considered by almost every human rights organization as a doubtful question. Nowadays, more than half of all countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or do not apply it in practice. Currently, 78 countries and territories in the world retain and resort to the death penalty, but the number of countries that really execute convicted criminals is much less (Garland, McGowen, & Meranze, 2011). Among all the doubtful features concerning the death penalty, an issue of death sentence for young people aged from 16 to 21 is of high importance. Here, not only the question of human rights violation but also a moral and ethical issue of ending life of a young individual appears. Despite all the severity of a crime committed, they say it is unethical to end the life of a young man or girl, who ‘has not seen the life yet’. Thus, the issue of morality, ethical feasibility, and the necessity for death penalty bringing into the action for the young people aged 16-21 years should be investigated in-depth. This age range is under consideration since in different countries different age ranges are accepted for being amenable to law.
In many countries, there are humanistic exceptions for death conviction. As a rule, women, especially the pregnant ones, minors, disabled, the elderly, and children are not executed. However, in some states of the USA, particularly in Arizona, the authorities can execute a criminal from the age of fifteen. In several U.S. states (Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Alabama) court can formally execute at any age since there is generally no age limit for execution (USLegal). In total, nowadays death penalty is allowed in 38 states (Regan, & Alderson, 2003). This situation exists due to the fact that death sentence is not directly forbidden by the U.S. constitution (Garland, et al., 2011). Thus, every particular state can regulate its relation to the capital punishment. For a comparison, in Pakistan, the same penalties act for both adults and minors. The only exception is children under the age of seven years. In Iran, the authorities can execute pregnant women and children from the age of three. There is a great amount of such examples all over the world.
There is a short list of punishable by death crimes. These are, for example, murders with aggravating features, infringement on the life of a state or public figure, the infringement on the life of a person administering justice or preliminary investigation, infringement on the life of a law enforcement agency, genocide and other 60 ‘deathly’ crimes (Garland, et al., 2011). In Kansas, an individual will be sentenced to death for murder for hire, in Idaho – for kidnapping. Some countries are sentencing citizens, who carry substances recognized as a drug. In China, for example, the same fate awaits kidnappers, cigarette and drug dealers, and individuals selling pornography and even showing it. If one’s sexual orientation does not match the common norm, it will cost a life in Iran and Mauritania. In Yemen, air and water polluters are punished to death; in Mozambique for the trade on the black market the guilty will be executed (Patenaude, & Reynolds, 2006). One can see that juveniles can easily commit one of the crimes from this list. However, in the majority of cases, the features of death sentence are regulated, and capital punishment in most cases is replaced by a life sentence. Nevertheless, the percentage of cases for juveniles, which end in execution, is rather high (Brown, & Bohm, 2012). Cruel execution rules dominate mostly in the third world countries, where such sentence is supposed to regulate the crime rate and stop people from committing them. In such countries, the rate of crime is rather high, and the age of criminals is mostly from 15 to 27 (Garland, et al., 2011). Thus, the biggest number of people sentenced to death is among this age bracket. It is worth to say that even the danger of being executed does not prevent juveniles from committing crimes, and that is why the rate is still high.
Quite often a person is executed for a case with no direct evidence on the crime commitment or youngsters are executed by inhuman methods (for example, by injection of the drug, which can cause breathing problems before the actual death). It is a frequent case since in the majority of cases lawyers and state authorities put down the crime to emotional disequilibrium or fear of a juvenile. In addition, in many cases the court takes into account the age of a juvenile at the moment of court decision and execution. For example, in case an individual committed a crime at the age of 16 and court proceeding is taking place two or more years later, the judge takes into account the current age of the criminal, which is 18 or more (i.e. adult); and, thus, the young person can be sentenced to death (Regan, & Alderson, 2003). However, the United Nations Convention says that the age of a person in a moment of committing a crime should be taken into consideration. Therefore, such individuals should not be judged as adults.
For and Against: Morality and Necessity
Taking into account all the above, the issue of ethics and morality of a death sentence is of current interest. The age and causes for the capital punishment in some countries are simply absurd. For example, what a three-year-old boy or girl could commit to be sentenced to death? In addition, in accord with Human Rights Convention all people, especially the youngsters, have the right to live and be protected from infringement on this right. What is more, an issue of morality and ethics concerning people of 16-21 years old is still acute. These people are young and are supposed live long and happy life. In addition, the notion of giving a second chance is applicable here since in case of death penalty this notion is not applied.
Juvenile justice is meant to provide limiting measures and prevent juvenile criminals from committing delinquent acts, provide treatment, rehabilitation, services and programs preventing further committing of outlaw acts (Cothern, 2000). It is done in terms of the notion that juveniles are the future of the country and thus, sentencing them to death means sentencing the country. In addition, in terms of providing more and more humanistic ways of treating the criminals, more people are against inhuman methods of treating the felons, especially the youngsters. From a religious viewpoint, death penalty is false and impious in this respect that it clearly violates human terms of reference.
On the opposite, a particular part of individuals claim that committing a crime in such an early age, especially taking into account that the crimes, for which people are as a rule sentenced to death are severe ones, is the sign of society retardation. Thus, there is an opinion that such criminals do not deserve a further life since they would ‘poison’ the society. They say that in case such individual would have a family and children, these children would not bring something good. What is more, this part of people claims that, in accord with the Newton’s law, every action has its counteraction, and capital punishment is an adequate ‘answer’ for the crime an individual committed. What is more, death penalty can be justified by humanistic considerations in relation to the offender himself, since life sentence often being hopeless and unbearably heavy solitary confinement is for the most par worse than an instant death. It is especially true for juveniles and youngsters since they should serve a sentence knowing that their best years are spent for nothing. Sometimes it creates great psychological problems (Garland, et al., 2011). Finally, the last argument is that death penalty is a simple and cheap way to get rid of the offender.
It is worth mentioning that an argument between moral and legal part of the issue, perhaps, would never be ended since one can never talk about capital punishment without emotion. In the public discussion of death penalty, emotions necessarily would be present together with the arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’. Moreover, there cannot be winners in this dispute. The solution lies in the plane of morality: that there should be a murder and the death penalty should not exist, especially applied on behalf of the state. Death penalty is primarily a murder, which is carried out by the state under its right to legitimate violence. It can also be called a judicial murder, which is done by a court (Regan, & Alderson, 2003). However, from the other, legal side of view, death penalty is an adequate punishment for severe crime. For a youngster committing a severe crime is a sign of unnatural thoughts and intentions; thus, the task of the government and juvenile system is to protect a society from such individuals and life sentence gives a possibility of coming back to a society and influencing such a person even from behalf of prison.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the considered issue has always been, is and will be doubtful. The history and the current state of death penalty as a whole, and juvenile capital punishment in particular, say that there never would be one particular opinion on the issue. One of the trends in the development of this problem lies in the fact that as time goes by there appear changes in subjective attitudes towards death penalty. Society has formerly unanimously recognized the need, as well as moral justification of death penalty. However, nowadays in terms of tolerant relationship for all aspects of human and social life, death penalty seems a human rights violation and offence against a personality. Juvenile death penalty will also be doubted since emotions and compassion towards youngsters will always exist and the majority of people consider being sentenced for life is better that death.
Brown, C. A., & Bohm, R. M. (2012). Juvenile Death Penalty. In R.J.R. Levesque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 1502-1509). Bloomington, IN: Springer US.
Cothern, L. (2000). Juveniles and the death penalty. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Garland, D., McGowen, R., & Meranze, M. (Eds.). (2011). America's death penalty: Between past and present. New York: NYU Press.
Patenaude, A. L. & Reynolds, M. (2006). Capital punishment and juveniles. In B. Sims and P. Preston (Eds.), Handbook of Juvenile Justice: Theory and Practice (pp. 521-534). Boca Raton, FI: Taylor & Francis.
Regan, J., & Alderson, A. (2003). The death penalty for juvenile offenders. Tennessee medicine, 473-474.
USLegal. (n.d.). Death penalty for minors. Retrieved from http://deathpenalty.uslegal.com/minors/death-penalty-for-minors/