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Roper v. Simmons
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Thread: Roper v. Simmons

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Roper v. Simmons

    Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) was a decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18. The 5-4 decision overruled the Court's prior ruling upholding such sentences on offenders above or at the age of 16, in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), overturning statutes in 25 states that had the penalty set lower.

    The case

    This case, in Missouri, involved Christopher Simmons, who, in 1993 at the age of 17, concocted a plan to murder Shirley Crook, bringing two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plot. The plan was to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and tossing the victim off a bridge. The three met in the middle of the night; however, Tessmer then dropped out of the plot. Simmons and Benjamin broke into Mrs. Crook's home, bound her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge.

    Once the case went to trial, the evidence was overwhelming. Simmons had confessed to the murder, performed a videotaped reenactment at the crime scene, and there was testimony from Tessmer against him that showed premeditation (he discussed the plot in advance and later bragged about the crime). The jury returned a guilty verdict. Even considering mitigating factors (no criminal history and his age), the jury recommended a death sentence, which the trial court imposed. Simmons first moved for the trial court to set aside the conviction and sentence, citing, in part, ineffective assistance of counsel. His age, and thus impulsiveness, along with a troubled background were brought up as issues that Simmons claimed should have been raised at the sentencing phase. The trial court rejected the motion, and Simmons appealed.

    The case worked its way up the court system, with the courts continuing to uphold the death sentence. However, in light of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), that overturned the death penalty for the mentally retarded, Simmons filed a new petition for state post conviction relief, and the Supreme Court of Missouri concluded that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of the mentally retarded[1]" and held that such punishment now violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Thus, they sentenced Simmons to life imprisonment without parole.

    The State of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. (Donald P. Roper, the Superintendent of the correctional facility where Simmons was held, was a party to the action because it was brought as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.)

    The Ruling

    This case was argued on October 13, 2004. The appeal challenged the constitutionality of capital punishment for persons who were juveniles when their crimes were committed, citing the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

    A 1988 Supreme Court decision Thompson v. Oklahoma barred execution of offenders under the age of 16. In 1989, another case, Stanford v. Kentucky upheld the possibility of capital punishment for offenders who were 16 or 17 years old when they committed the capital offense. The same day in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Penry v. Lynaugh, that it was permissible to execute the mentally retarded. However, in 2002, that decision was overruled in Atkins v. Virginia, where the Court held that evolving standards of decency had made the execution of the mentally retarded cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional.

    Under the "evolving standards of decency" test, the Court held that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy cited a body of sociological and scientific research [1] that found that juveniles have a lack of maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults. Adolescents were found to be overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior. The Court noted that in recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every state prohibited those under age 18 from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. The studies also found that juveniles are also more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. They have less control, or experience with control, over their own environment. They also lack the freedom that adults have, in escaping a criminogenic setting.[2]

    In support of the "national consensus" position, the Court noted the increasing infrequency with which states were applying capital punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the decision, 20 states had the juvenile death penalty on the books, but only six states had executed prisoners for crimes committed as juveniles since 1989. Only three states had done so in the past 10 years: Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Furthermore, five of the states that allowed the juvenile death penalty at the time of the 1989 case had since abolished it.

    The Court also looked to practices in other countries to support the holding. Between 1990 and the time of the case, the court said, "only seven countries other than the United States ha[d] executed juvenile offenders ... : Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China." Justice Kennedy noted that since 1990 each of those countries had either abolished the death penalty for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice, and that the United States stood alone in allowing execution of juvenile offenders. The Court also noted that only the United States and Somalia had not ratified Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (September 2, 1990), which expressly prohibits capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles.

    In drawing the line at 18 years of age for actions with death eligibility, the Supreme Court considered that 18 is also where the law draws the line between minority and adulthood for a multitude of other purposes, overturning its holding in Stanford v. Kentucky that such a consideration was irrelevant.

    The Dissents

    Justice Scalia wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. Justice OConnor also wrote a dissenting opinion. The dissents put into question whether a national consensus had indeed formed among the state laws, citing the fact that at the time of the ruling only 18 of 38 death penalty states (47%) prohibited the execution of juveniles (the other 13 states executed neither juveniles nor adults).

    However, the primary objection of the Court's two originalists, Justices Scalia and Thomas, was whether such a consensus was relevant. Justice Scalia argued that the appropriate question was not whether there was presently a consensus against the execution of juveniles, but rather whether the execution of such defendants was considered cruel and unusual at the point at which the Bill of Rights was ratified.

    In addition, Justice Scalia also objected in general to the Court's willingness to take guidance from foreign law in interpreting the Constitution; his dissent questioned not only the relevance of foreign law, but also accused the Court of "invok[ing] alien law when it agrees with one's own thinking, and ignor[ing] it otherwise," noting that in the case of abortion U.S. laws are less restrictive than the international norm.

    Scalia also attacked the majority opinion as being fundamentally anti-democratic. His dissent cited a passage from the Federalist Papers in arguing that the role of the judiciary in the constitutional scheme is to interpret the law as formulated in democratically selected legislatures. He argued that the Court exists to rule on what the law says, not what it should say, and that it is for the legislature, acting in the manner prescribed in Article V of the Constitution, to offer amendments to the Constitution in light of the evolving standard of decency, not for the Court to arbitrarily make de facto amendments. He challenged the right of unelected lawyers to discern moral values and to impose them on the people in the name of flexible readings of the constitutional text.


  2. #2
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    Pre-Roper minimum ages for executions by state

    no capital punishment

    minimum age of 18

    minimum age of 17

    minimum age of 16

  3. #3
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    SCOTUS ruling continues to impact Iowa inmates

    Sentenced as a teen to life without parole, Julio Bonilla now has potential of release

    A ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in the sentencing of non-homicide juvenile offenders continues to ripple through the Iowa judicial system.

    In an opinion released Friday, justices on the Iowa Supreme Court have reduced the sentence of Julio Bonilla, who was convicted of first degree kidnapping in 2005. Instead of serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, Bonilla, who was 16 at the time of the offense, will now have the opportunity to be freed. The reduction was firmly based in Graham v. Florida, a case heard by the high court in May that ruled states may not sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole for non-homicide cases.

    Bonillas claim falls squarely within the United States Supreme Courts decision in Graham. Bonilla was convicted of the nonhomicide crime of kidnapping in the first degree, a class A felony. Bonilla was sentenced to life in prison without parole pursuant to Iowa Code section 902.1, which provides that an individual convicted of a class A felony will be sentenced to life and shall not be released on parole unless the governor commutes the sentence to a term of years. Graham applies retroactively to Bonilla because it is a new rule of substantive law clarifying the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

    The federal decision took note of an earlier case, Roper V. Simmons, in which the Court ruled that juveniles committing homicides could not receive the death penalty. Short of that maximum sentence, the highest sentence a juvenile could receive would be life without parole the same punishment someone who had not committed homicide would receive. Although the approach has been criticized by strict constructionists, the court also considered the absence of such sentences in other countries and, finally, broadened the scope of its review to all cases involving juveniles instead of limiting it to the Florida case being heard. (Because the ruling was not limited to the specific case before the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority, but endorsed only a case-by-case applicative approach.) No exceptions were made to the mandate that states could not provide such sentences to juveniles who were not convicted of killing.

    In writing the opinion, U.S. Justice Anthony Kennedy said that a State need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life, it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term.

    What the federal ruling did not establish was firm guidelines to the states on its mandate that juvenile offenders be offered a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity. And, exactly what such a mandate means in reference to state law and parole timing is something the Iowa Supreme Court believes needs legislative review. For now, the justices have reduced Bonillas sentence to life with the possibility of parole and, by applying existing state law, acknowledge that such a process could begin immediately.

    By striking the unconstitutional statutory provisions which prevent Bonilla from ever receiving consideration for parole, Bonilla will become eligible for an annual case review immediately. He will therefore be eligible for a parole case review before an individual convicted of second degree kidnapping. When a portion of a statute is unconstitutional, we sever the offending portions from the enactment and leave the remainder intact. We leave to the legislature whether and how to correct this apparent inconsistency.

    While Bonillas case is one of the first to be brought before the Iowa Supreme Court, it is extremely unlikely to be the last. Assistant State Appellate Defender Theresa R. Wilson said there are seven such cases that may eventually be elevated for additional review based on Graham.

    Also, what really has not been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court is if sentences of life without parole are violations of the 8th Amendment for juveniles who commit homicide, Wilson told The Iowa Independent by phone Friday.

    One case that might eventually provide an answer to that question has its origins in Iowa. A March appeal trial has been scheduled for Ruthann Veal, who was convicted of the 1993 first-degree murder of a 66-year-old Waterloo woman. At the time of the murder, Veal was 14.

    It was also an Iowa case that first forced the federal ruling to be applied retroactively, and paved the way for offenders like Bonilla to have their arguments of illegal sentencing heard by the court. Jason Means was found guilty of kidnapping and second degree murder during an incident when he was 17, and was ultimately sentenced to life without parole on the kidnapping charge. Means challenged his sentence under Graham with the help of Davenport Attorney Angela Fritz Reyes, and received an answer in September 2010: The federal ruling should be applied to earlier cases because, upon collateral review by the 7th Judicial District Court in Scott County, the SCOTUS ruling was found to be a new rule of substantive law.


  4. #4
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    Oct 2010
    US high court denies appeal from Miss. inmate

    The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Mississippi inmate William Joseph Holly.

    Holly was one of five Mississippi death row inmates saved from lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that it's unconstitutional to execute those who committed capital offenses when they were younger than 18.

    Holly was 17 when police say he robbed and murdered a Grenada cab driver.

    In 2008, Holly was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Holly appealed the sentence imposed in Grenada County, saying life without parole was not an option when he killed the cab driver in 1992. Holly wanted to be resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

    A federal judge in Mississippi and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled against Holly. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear his case.

    The 5th Circuit said last December that the law as written when Holly committed his capital offense provided that if the death penalty was found to be unconstitutional then the offender would be resentenced to life without parole.

    The 5th Circuit said when the U.S. Supreme Court found the death sentence was unconstitutional for people under 18 when their crime was committed Holly was properly resentenced to life without parole under Mississippi law.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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