Current Affairs

Ban on Juvenile Executions

In the news today the US Supreme Court upheld a ban on juvenile executions by a narrow margin of 5-4. Basically that means that if you murder someone while you’re a minor, you can’t get sentenced to death. Writing in dissent, Sandra Day O’Connor maintained that "Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of psychological development, and common experience suggests that many 17-year-olds are more mature than the average young ‘adult.’"

O’Connor may be right. Perhaps we shouldn’t be executing criminals under 25 who commit murder.

Oh, wait…that wasn’t her point?

I mean obviously it is embarrassing to live in a country that finds it logical to demonstrate its ethical and moral objection to murder by murdering people, but capital punishment is really just the tip of the bloody iceberg.

Obviously OBVIOUSLY, the identification of 18 as an entry into "adulthood" is a legal fiction. It is arbitrary, though based on historical contexts and some general notion of human maturation.

The argument, as I have read it, is one of set logic. Because the crimes of some minors may be as deserving of murder (*cough* I mean execution) as those of older criminals, drawing an aribitrary line is unjustified. I can see that. As an opponent to state-sponsored murder I disagree with the entire practice, but I can see this argument. But it begs the question… so what?

The entire legal system is completely arbitrary. Indeed, one might say arbitration is it’s business. There are a set of arbitrary rules: what is or isn’t legal, what counts as evidence, how arguments are made in the courtroom, various legal protocols, etc. etc. The premise is in/justice, and all trials are in/just.

To complain that a legal distinction makes a sweeping arbitrary decision just doesn’t make sense. That’s what law is. It’s certainly no less arbitrary or justified than saying the death penalty isn’t "cruel and unusual punishment" to begin with.

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