Thompson v. Oklahoma 487 U.S. 815 (1988)

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THOMPSON v. OKLAHOMA 487 U.S. 815 (1988)

The Court held that the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment, applicable to the states by the incorporation doctrine, prohibited the death sentence against a first-degree murderer who committed the offense at the age of fifteen. Justice john paul stevens spoke for a four-member plurality in whose judgment Justice sandra day o'connor joined. Stevens asserted that the execution of the juvenile would "offend civilized standards of decency" and be "abhorrent to the conscience of the community."

O'Connor discerned no such consensus from the evidence adduced by the plurality. Indeed, the Court divided 4–4 on the question as to whether such a consensus existed. O'Connor believed that the sentence must be set aside because of the risk that the state did not realize that its capital punishment statute might apply to fifteen-yearolds.

Stevens had a second string to his bow. He declared that the execution of the minor did not contribute to the purposes underlying the death penalty. O'Connor and the dissenters believed that the plurality Justices failed to understand that some fifteen-year-olds were as blameworthy as adults.

Justice antonin scalia, for the three dissenters (Justice anthony m. kennedy did not participate), believed that a consensus existed showing that the execution of juveniles under fifteen years of age did not offend community standards and therefore did not violate the Eighth Amendment. In standford v. penry (1988) the Court ruled that the execution of juveniles who murdered at sixteen years of age was constitutional.

Leonard W. Levy

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Thompson v. Oklahoma 487 U.S. 815 (1988)

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