Roper v. Simmons

By: Federico DaFranca (Fred Jankilevich) Attorney At Law

June 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Summary: Affirms the prohibition for the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, “The Death Penalty” in offenders under the age of eighteen. Affirmed under the Eighth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

Judges: Drafted by Chief Justice Kennedy on March 1, 2005.

Interpretation of the Legal Opinion: The primary issue debated by the digest of Chief Justice Kennedy is the matter of “Permissibility.” Upon the light thereof stands whether the applicability of the Fourth and Eighth Amendments are permissible. The problem of capital punishment is weighted against Stanford v. Kentucky.1 The result of the judgment is a divided Supreme Court whereby the proposition of Chief Justice Kennedy is rejected. Thus, Capital punishment for juvenile offenders remains allowed.

A review of the lower courts pertaining the case permits the revision of Chief Justice Kennedy to emphasize the Miranda privileges during the time of the arrest of the defendant. Therefore, a literal transcription of the writ follows: “…after receiving information of Simmons’ involvement, police arrested him at his high school and took him to the police station in Fenton, Missouri. They read him his Miranda rights. Simmons waived his right to an attorney and agreed to answer questions.” Even though the legal capacity of the minor is beyond the scope of this writing, emphasis must be added as a result thereto (the underlined text does not correspond to the original citation).

Furthermore, the account of the interrogation reads: “After less than two hours of interrogation, Simmons confessed to the murder and agreed to perform a videotaped re- enactment at the crime scene.” (Ibid.)

The result of the Holding of the Missouri Juvenile Court was a guilty verdict for burglary, kidnapping, stealing and murder in the first degree. Even though the legal capacity of the minor is beyond the reach of our legal interpretation, a literal evaluation of Kennedy permits in inference to conclude it was a Fourth and Eighth amendment matter because he was tried as an adult.2

As a consequence, the State sought the death penalty upon the minor. Among aggravating factors considered by the Supreme Court that appear from Chief Justice Kennedy’s text the most relevant ones are listed next by order of priority: Commission of the murder for the purpose of receiving money, prevention of lawful arrest of the defendant and depravity based upon vile inhumanity.

Therefore, the Simmons’ defence is an affirmative defence based upon testimonies of close relationships such as neighbours; testimonies of close relatives, such as half brothers and parents and a plea for mercy on his behalf. Thus, the closing argument, primarily inclusive of a negation of the prosecutorial defence is a positive defence based upon age and legal capacity.

The holding of the Missouri juvenile Court was against the defendant, for the family of the victim accepting the full recommendation of the death penalty.

On appeal, the family of the defendant filed a new petition alleging on appeal “postconviction relief.” During appeal, the Atkins reasoning is the foundation for the constitutional affirmation in favour of constitutional abode.3 The result of the verdict was the reversal of the Death Penalty in favour of Simmons. In this sense, it’s worth to reiterate the revision of Chief Justice Kennedy based upon Stanford whereby: “… a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders, as demonstrated by the fact that eighteen states now bar such executions for juveniles, that twelve other states bar executions altogether, that no state has lowered its age of execution below 18 since Stanford…”4 (The underlined text does not correspond to the original source)

Further thus, a historical interpretation of the Federal Constitution, may be considered as prohibiting against “cruel and unusual punishment” as a result of expansive language. Consequently, it is the belief of Justice Kennedy that a historical interpretation capacious phonology is to be considered upon tradition and precedent, with due regard for its purpose and function in the constitutional design.

A historical interpretation of the Constitution, thence, permits to infer that the prohibition from thirty states of the juvenile death penalty and the rejection thereupon of twelve more, in conjunction with a remaining eighteen states that preserve it are the result of express provision, of judicial interpretation and of proper judicial application to exclude juveniles from its reach.

It can be summarised as a result that the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for offenders under eighteen, that the task of interpreting the eighth amendment is the responsibility of national jurisdictional expression and that international authority is not to be rendered fairly more than as an instructive for interpretation. Therefore, a national instrument, as per Kennedy’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, its possible to infer that “in virtual unanimity statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment.5

Subsequently, an auxiliary supplement lies upon observance of the English Courts, wherefore: “…the doctrine of felony murder has been abolished.” Accordingly, there is a certain relevance in the international belief, as can be reflected upon the digests of the English Courts,

“… it is not irrelevant (…) that out of 60 nations in the world surveyed in 1965, only three retained the death penalty…”6 (The underlined text does not conform to its original version)

Moreover, the United Kingdom experience bears “particular relevance” in light of the historic ties between Great Britain and the United States and in light of the Eighth Amendment and its origins. Additionally, the amendment was modelled on a parallel provision of the English Declaration of Rights (1689). A restricted transcription of the provision reads: “Excessive Bail ought not to be required nor excessive Fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual Punishments inflicted.7”

In the present, the United Kingdom has abolished the death penalty entirely. Nonetheless, this is fairly recent and during the preceding decades recognized the disproportionate nature of the juvenile death penalty. The abolishment of the death penalty for juvenile offenses, as a result there from, constitutes a separate matter, voted by an independent committee. The 1930 commission designated to recommend, therefore voted the minimum maturity for execution at twenty-one years of age.8

In the United States, the Constitution represents a symbol of respect and veneration by the American people, for all Americans at home and abroad. As the Federalist papers portray, the American experience rests upon innovative principles original to America in its inception: “a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom.”9

1 Stanford v. Kentucky. 492 U.S. 361, 106, L. Ed. 2d 306, 109 S. Ct. 2969 (1989). 2 Mo. Rev. Stat. SS 211.021 (2000). Mo. Rev. Stat. SS 211.031 (Supp. 2003).

3 Atkins v. Virginia. 536. U.S. 304, 153, L. Ed. 2d. 335, 122, S. Ct. 2242 (2002). 4 Simmons v. Roper, 112 S.W. 3d. 397, (2003).
5 356 U.S. 102, 103, 2L. Ed. 2d, 630, 78, S. Ct. 590.

6 Coker, supra, at 596 n. 10, 53, L. Ed. 2d, 982, 97, S. Ct. 2861.
7 1W. & M., ch. 2, Section 10. England. Statutes at Large. 441. (1770).
8 House of Commons Report from the Select Committee on Capital Punishment (1930). 9 Federalist No. 49, p. 314. Rotisser C. 1961.

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