This paper gives a critical and in-depth analysis of the United States’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Since their ratification, these amendments have become very important in helping to determine various cases involving Americans in all the states. In doing this, the paper will use a case in which involved Simmons who at 17 was convicted of planning and committing murder. After the hearing of his case at the Missouri Supreme Court, he was sentenced to a death sentence (Brody, Acker & Logan, 2001).
However, being a minor, many people particularly the civil society did not take this ruling lightly. It was deemed harshly inappropriate and in a violation of the due process of the law. In this regard, the papers will synthesis the two amendments in relation to the juveniles and mentally handicapped person.
As already highlighted, Simmons was charged at the Supreme Court of the United States of America in Missouri. After the argument of his case on 13/10/2004, the case was later decided upon 1/3/2003, he was found guilty of two offences planning and committing murder. Since these are felonies, he was to be given a very strict punishment (Ormerod, 2005). This was the most appropriate charge he was to get because of the magnitude of his offence. The Federal law of the United States allows judges to a give such sentences to people with such like capital offenses. It was a very serious crime which had to be severely punished. This explains why his appeal was later rejected.
The major issue surrounding this case is the validity of the ruling. Many people asked if it is legally moral to subject Simmons, a juvenile, to a death penalty. Surely, this must be a very harsh punishment to which such a minor should be subjected. Even if certain clauses of the law are arguing in favour of such a punishment, more controversies have been encountered because of the complexities of the legal system (Nelson, 2008).
To begin with, the paper would like to focus on the Eighth Amendment of the United States’ law. After its adoption by the Congress in 1791, this amendment was ratified in 1789 as an integral part of the Bill of Rights. It provided clauses adopted by the federal government that would not unjustly infringe the rights of the people by imposition of cruel and unusual punishment.
This assertion puts this clause in a better position to provide a basis of argument in this case. This may be due to the fact the kind of punishment given to Simmons as a respondent, in this case, may fall in their category. The paper reports that the bench of judges who ruled over this case must have acted contrary to this amendment.
On the other hand, the Fourteenth Amendment is also applicable in this case. Through its clause on the due process which asserts that both the local state and federal governments should not deprive a person of his life property and liberty without taking deliberate steps to provide fairness. This implies the state should always ensure that people’s lives are protected at all times without any form of infringement. The paper stresses that it would be applied in determining this case which Simmons was confronted with.
To begin with, the paper would like to agree that this case was not fairly liberated upon. The judge must have been unjustified for a giving such kind of ruling to this offender. Although he was convicted after becoming an adult, the fact the crime was exacted a year later would have been given due consideration. As indicated above, this was a violation of the Eighth Amendment which classifies such rulings as excessively punitive.
The judge should have alluded to the speculations of this amendment, which exempts minors and mentally handicapped convicts from such punishments. It is generally understood that this would be an unusual and cruel punishment. It is held that the offender does not qualify to be a fully responsible person who deeply understands the implications of his actions.
Simmons is not fully mature. His mental capacity is still not fully developed. Meaning, he is not in the best position to know what is morally right or wrong in society. He is still a very incompetent offender whose case ought to be determined in a more sober and careful manner. Since this, the paper reports the judge must not have acted in line with this amendment. The case should have been determined by putting a lot of emphasis on the competence of the accused person. As it is widely known, minors are people who are still dependent on the adult.
They always need to be guided by their parents and other elders within their immediate surrounding. At times, their senior can be blamed for failing to advise them or the right things to do at any given time. Moreover, children grow up to become products of their environments. They learn to adopt different kinds of character traits from people they often interact with. This is why the paper reviews them to be incompetent offenders who may be given less severe punishments as compared to their adult counterparts (Clarke & Linzey, 2006).
Besides, the case did not comply with the amendment’s clause that juveniles can not qualify to be the worst offenders. Hence, it is disproportionate of the judge to subject Simmons to a death sentence. Being a child, Simmons was supposed to be given a special consideration. Although murder is a very serious offense, the accused person should have been given a lighter punishment – only to offer him rehabilitation. The paper argues that the death penalty would not bring any lesson to him. Instead, he should have been imprisoned for some time. If this was done, he would get a chance to be counselled and rehabilitated. He would get an opportunity to learn from his mistakes and possibly reform to be a better person because of this.
The Eighth Amendment also stipulates that government should be prohibited from punishing offender who is mentally impaired. The reason is such persons are not conscious about morality; they can not use their intelligence to know that something is good or bad. They morally act as creatures that are not aware of the implications of their actions (Cotterrell, 2000). Instead of punishing them, they are supposed to be considered as people who can not make sound decisions, which can be of benefit to them. Surely, punishing insane is like punishing a juvenile who was acting out of ignorance. They can not benefit from such punishments like life imprisonment or execution. Furthermore, they should be given a lighter punishment which will give them an opportunity to be rehabilitated and became law abiding citizens in the future. If an insane is convicted of a criminal offence, it will not be logical to execute him. They do not have a personal capability to determine the degree of their damage. Even if the law is universally applicable to all the people, special considerations must be put to protect the interest of these individuals. This is why the paper disagrees with the judges for failing to accept the appeal filed by Simmons in order to be heard by a higher court. This case should be allowed to proceed to get a less severe punishment.
The law does not allow a judge to give an insane to cruel punishment. It will be unfair and unjustified. This is because these are people who can not fully exploit their cognitive capacity to make rational decisions on what to do at any given time. At the same time, they are ignorant of the law which determines what is legal and illegal in the country. Though this is not expected to be used to justify a crime, the fact is these are people who will not even comprehend the kind of offense they commit, the hearing process or the kind of punishment they are subjected to. If this was put into consideration, the judge would not have granted that very ruling.
The paper also holds that this ruling is unnecessary and unaccepted in society. Actually, no society can consider the execution of a minor as a moral act. Despite that Simmons committed a serious offence he was not supposed to be given a death sentence. Even if the USA is a theocratic nation, it is generally accepted that children are people who are still under a strict supervision of their parents and guardians (Piper, 2007). At the same time, they should not be executed regardless of their offences. The only thing which needs to be done in case of such a conviction is a lighter punishment. This will give them an ample opportunity to learn from their mistakes and be compelled to transform to be good citizens. In other words, society views this as an immorally inappropriate and unnecessary form of punishment.
Consequently, this ruling is inappropriate since it does not show any respect to human dignity. The paper strongly suggests that the issuance of such a ruling is a degradation of human dignity. The Bill of Rights provides protection of the rights to be provided for and protected from any form of torture and oppression (Fletcher, 2008). Based on this, the paper establishes the kind of punishment given to Simmons with regard to this offence was aimed at lowering his dignity as a juvenile. It would not sound that a minor is executed because of an alleged murder.
Meanwhile, the paper argues in favour of 1868 ratified Fourteenth Amendment which strongly advocates for a due process in the determination of a crime. According to this coveted clause, the amendment prohibits the local, state and the federal governments from depriving a person of his liberty, life or property especially in an unlawful manner (Cotterrell, 2009). Based on this stipulation, this paper concedes the amendment is undoubtedly applicable in the determination of this case. The kind of ruling given to Simmons is quite contrary to this clause because it would mean taking of someone’s life.
Arbitrary sentencing of Simmons to a death penalty is a very high form of brutality. It is an infringement of the Bill of Rights, which grants him freedom from torture alongside the right to life. Despite the fact these rights have limitations; it appears so peculiar that a juvenile is given such a weird punitive ruling. The law is very clear on this matter, particularly when it states that no one is allowed to claim the life of another. Besides, Simmons is a minor who has got full rights to be protected by the government. The paper, therefore, strongly suggests the judge was quite inconsiderate of these facts. He was unjustified to give a death penalty to a subconscious juvenile who was acting out of naivety (Bayles, 2005).
The paper would like to recommend that this case should have been reviewed. It is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that judgment delivered would not serve justice to the convict. Even if age ought not to be used to justify a crime, the presiding judge would have revoked his decision to the interest of the minor. After all, man was not created for the law which was, of course, made for man. The appeal filed should not be thrown away. It supposed to be heard by a bench of highly trained, dynamic and experienced judges. The presiding judge must have been carried away. Instead of being so narrow-minded, he would have become more rational to reach a more sensible decision (Jerome, 2010).
This paper recommends the judge would have exploited all the legal options pertaining to this case especially the Children Rights Act, the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. These are some of the most relevant sections of the law which would have guided him appropriately. Had he done this, he would have understood more about these clauses and know the capabilities of this offender, would not make him suitable for such a magnitude of punishment. At the same time, he would have alluded to the past rulings made regarding cases of the same nature. Moreover, he would have looked at the case from a broader perspective by reviewing the traditions and common perception of the American populace. If he did this, he would have enough information to help him make a reasonable conclusion.
This was a very difficult case. Dealing with a case involving a juvenile as an accused can be really a challenging situation. The presiding judge has to be too rational in delivering such a ruling. It is true that Simmons was convicted of murder charges. However, the judge would have given a less severe punishment considering that convict committed the crime while being a minor. His age is still too small. Therefore, the law is not to be applied so stringently on him. He still has a very long way to go. Additionally, he can not benefit from a death penalty. The best alternative is to give him a long imprisonment term from which he can be rehabilitated and get a chance to learn from his mistakes. Law should not be used to oppress man, but to bring order, harmony and justice to the society. The appeal is expected to be heard.
Bayles, M. D. (2010). Hart’s legal philosophy: An examination. Houten, Netherlands: Springer.
Brody, D. C., Acker, J. R., & Logan, W. A. (2001). Introduction to the Study of Criminal Law. In D. C. Brody, J. R. Acker, & W. A. Logan, Criminal Law (1-56). Gaithersburg, MD: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Clarke, P. A. B., & Linzey, A. (Eds.). (2006). Dictionary of ethics, theology and society. London, UK: Routledge.
Cotterrell, R. (2000). The sociology of law: An introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Cotterrell, R. (2009). Emile Durkheim: Law in a moral domain. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Fletcher, G. P. (2008). Basic concepts of criminal law. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Jerome, H. (2010). General principles of criminal law. (2nd ed.). Clark, NJ: The Lawbook Exchange Ltd.
Nelson, W. E. (2008). The Fourteenth Amendment: From political principle to judicial doctrine.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ormerod, D. (2005). Smith and Hogan Criminal Law. London, UK: Oxford University Press.
Piper, J. (2007). The case of the pillow angel. The Triple Helix. Available from http://triplehelixnus.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/nus-fall-2007.pdf
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