People and groups ranging from Jimmy Carter to Mikhail Gorbachev and the American Medical Association to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the Supreme Court yesterday to declare that it is unconstitutional to execute people for crimes they committed before turning 18, says the Washington Post. The U.S. is one of five countries that execute juvenile offenders, a practice that shocks European allies and violates “minimum standards of decency shared by virtually every nation in the world,” nine eminent former U.S. diplomats told the court in one of 15 briefs filed yesterday. In 2002 the court, invoking the “evolving standards of decency,” abolished capital punishment for mentally retarded offenders. In yesterday’s briefs, death-penalty opponents hope to persuade the court to apply similar reasoning to juveniles.
The court will hear arguments this fall in the case of Christopher Simmons, now 27, who was sentenced to death for the 1993 drowning of Shirley Crook, 46. Simmons was 17 when he and a 15-year-old accomplice broke into Crook’s mobile home in Missouri intending to burglarize it. Fearing that she had recognized them, they bound her with duct tape and wire and kicked her off a bridge into a river. Missouri’s Supreme Court overturned Simmons’s death sentence, ruling that the execution of juvenile offenders violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The state of Missouri appealed the ruling. Since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976, 22 people have been put to death for crimes committed as minors.