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The Law, the Science, and the Logic of Ending the Teenage Death Penalty

Abstract

Concepts of youth have long been relevant and significant to determinations of capacity responsibility and punishment. That relevance and significance has become more pronounced in the last several decades, through the U.S. Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment evolving standards decisions in Thompson, Stanford, Atkins, Roper, Graham, Miller, and Montgomery. For purposes of the teenage death penalty, given the shared, signature, culpability-diminishing characteristics of youth, and their relationship to legitimate penological objectives being measurably served, the Court’s decisions recognize the necessity of categorical analysis rather than individual assessment. The current article reviews the legal foundation and analytical framework applicable to extending the categorical exemption from the death penalty from 17 through the age of 20 years, the role science plays in that determination, and applies the U.S. Supreme Court’s analytical framework to data and testimony from a 2019 Oregon capital case, Guzek v. Kelly, concluding that current objective indicia demonstrate a consensus of American society disfavoring capital punishment, with the science confirming that conclusion.

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Correspondence to Karen A. Steele.

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This article is part of the Special Issue: Law, Neuroscience, and Death as a Penalty for the Late Adolescent Class; Dr. Robert Leark, Guest Editor.

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Steele, K.A. The Law, the Science, and the Logic of Ending the Teenage Death Penalty. J Pediatr Neuropsychol 7, 9–26 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40817-021-00100-2

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Keywords

  • Death penalty
  • Roper
  • Adolescence
  • Penological objectives
  • Miller