Court Urged to Halt Executions for Underage Crimes

U.S. Bishops’ Conference Joins Other Religious Groups in Plea

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 20, 2004 ( Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution of people for crimes they committed as juveniles.

“Just two years ago, the court concluded that the execution of persons with mental retardation cannot be squared with the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment,” Cardinal McCarrick of Washington said in a statement. He chairs the U.S. bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee.

“It is our hope,” the cardinal said, “that the Supreme Court will now extend the same moral wisdom and legal reasoning to the use of the death penalty against those who committed capital crimes as juveniles.”

His statement came as the bishops’ conference and 29 other religious organizations filed a brief asking the high court to affirm a lower court ruling that the execution of people for crimes they committed as juveniles violates the U.S. Constitution.

The case before the court, Roper v. Simmons, involves a Missouri inmate, Christopher Simmons, who was sentenced to death for a murder committed when he was 17. Last year the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that such executions violate the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment and granted Simmons’ request to halt his execution.

The brief was signed by religious groups, reflecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist traditions.

The brief notes that despite differences in theology and moral outlook, the signers share the conviction that the execution of people for crimes they committed when they were juveniles cannot be morally justified, violates the standards of decency of American society, and violates the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

In a statement dated Monday, Cardinal McCarrick referred to the signers of the brief and said: “It is our shared conviction that because of their age, juveniles lack the psychological maturity and judgment of adults and therefore should not be treated as adults for purposes of capital crimes. Instead of resorting to the most severe and irreversible punishment our courts can impose, we believe society has an obligation always to hold out hope for the reform of those who as youths commit crimes, even the most terrible crimes.”