Stanford v. Kentucky 492 U.S. 361 (1989)

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STANFORD v. KENTUCKY 492 U.S. 361 (1989)

By a 5–4 vote, the Court held that the infliction of capital punishment on juveniles who committed their crimes at sixteen or seventeen years of age did not violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment, applied to the states by the fourteenth amendment.

Justice antonin scalia, for the majority, acknowledged that whether a punishment conflicts with evolving standards of decency depends on public opinion. But in examining the laws of the country, Scalia found that a majority of the states permit the execution of juvenile offenders. He refused to consider indicia of society's opinion other than by examination of jury verdicts and statutory law. Public opinion polls and the views of professional associations seemed to invite constitutional law to rest on "uncertain foundations." The Court also ruled that the imposition of death on juvenile offenders did not conflict with the legitimate goals of penology.

The four dissenters, led by Justice william j. brennan, argued that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the punishment of death for a person who committed a crime when under eighteen years of age. The dissenters relied on a far wider range of indicia of public opinion than did the majority to reach their conclusion that evolving standards of decency required a different holding. They argued too that the death penalty is disproportionate when applied to young offenders and significantly fails to serve the goals of capital punishment.

Leonard W. Levy

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Stanford v. Kentucky 492 U.S. 361 (1989)

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