Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Science in Roper v. Simmons?

A Knight-Ridder story suggests that scientific evidence played a key role in Roper v. Simmons. Analysis of the opinion itself does not support this, with the idea of a "national consensus" probably more significant in the majority opinion.

from Knight-Ridder:

Are youthful minds fundamentally different?

We've seen extraordinary strides in research and in the technological capacity to conduct that research, and that has fundamentally changed the way we view youth," said Marsha Levick, the legal director at the Juvenile Law Center, a national advocacy group for juvenile offenders. "There's real science to draw on now, and I think it's an important moment in legal and constitutional history that the court now recognizes that."

As more is learned about the brain, Levick said, its development is better understood. When the court last considered juvenile executions in 1989 and left 16- and 17-year-olds eligible, much of that knowledge wasn't available.

But now, new research - some involving magnetic resonance imaging of the brain - has shown that critical parts of the mind develop later than previously believed, robbing even late-year teenagers of the impulse control and decision-making ability of people just a few years older.

"Emerging from the neuropsychological research is a striking view of the brain and its gradual maturation, in far greater detail than seen before," the American Psychiatric Association said in its brief to the court. "Although the precise underlying mechanisms continue to be explored, what is certain is that, in late adolescence, important aspects of brain maturation remain incomplete, particularly those involving the brain's executive functions."

"We need not look far to find studies contradicting the court's conclusions," Scalia wrote. In particular, Scalia singled out the American Psychiatric Association, whose position on youthful immaturity was cited by Kennedy.

The group took "precisely the opposite position before this very court" in a 1990 case about whether minors could choose to have abortions without parental consent. The group said that by age 14 or 15, teenagers are similar to adults in their "reasoning about moral dilemmas, understanding social rules and laws, and reasoning about interpersonal relationships," Scalia noted.

from Roper v. Simmons:

This Court then held, in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, that the Eighth Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the execution of a mentally retarded person. Simmons filed a new petition for state postconviction relief, arguing that Atkins' reasoning established that the Constitution prohibits the execution of a juvenile who was under 18 when he committed his crime. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed and set aside Simmons' death sentence in favor of life imprisonment without eligibility for release. It held that, although Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U. S. 361, rejected the proposition that the Constitution bars capital punishment for juvenile offenders younger than 18, a national consensus has developed against the execution of those offenders since Stanford.


The next year, in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U. S. 361 (1989), the Court, over a dissenting opinion joined by four Justices, referred to contemporary standards of decency in this country and concluded the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments did not proscribe the execution of juvenile offenders over 15 but under 18. The Court noted that 22 of the 37 death penalty States permitted the death penalty for 16-year-old offenders, and, among these 37 States, 25 permitted it for 17-year-old offenders. These numbers, in the Court's view, indicated there was no national consensus "sufficient to label a particular punishment cruel and unusual." Id., at 370-371. A plurality of the Court also "emphatically reject[ed]" the suggestion that the Court should bring its own judgment to bear on the acceptability of the juvenile death penalty. Id., at 377-378 (opinion of Scalia, J., joined by Rehnquist, C. J., and White and Kennedy, JJ.); see also id., at 382 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (criticizing the plurality's refusal "to judge whether the ' "nexus between the punishment imposed and the defendant's blameworthiness" ' is proportional").


Three general differences between juveniles under 18 and adults demonstrate that juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders. First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, "[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions." Johnson, supra, at 367; see also Eddings, supra, at 115-116 ("Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult"). It has been noted that "adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior." Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 Developmental Review 339 (1992). In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. See Appendixes B-D, infra.


It is difficult even for expert psychologists to differentiate between the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption. See Steinberg & Scott 1014-1016. As we understand it, this difficulty underlies the rule forbidding psychiatrists from diagnosing any patient under 18 as having antisocial personality disorder, a disorder also referred to as psychopathy or sociopathy, and which is characterized by callousness, cynicism, and contempt for the feelings, rights, and suffering of others. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 701-706 (4th ed. text rev. 2000); see also Steinberg & Scott 1015. If trained psychiatrists with the advantage of clinical testing and observation refrain, despite diagnostic expertise, from assessing any juvenile under 18 as having antisocial personality disorder, we conclude that States should refrain from asking jurors to issue a far graver condemnation--that a juvenile offender merits the death penalty. When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.

Over time, from one generation to the next, the Constitution has come to earn the high respect and even, as Madison dared to hope, the veneration of the American people. See The Federalist No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; 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 and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

from the dissent of Justice Scalia:

Because I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners, I dissent.

Today's opinion provides a perfect example of why judges are ill equipped to make the type of legislative judgments the Court insists on making here. To support its opinion that States should be prohibited from imposing the death penalty on anyone who committed murder before age 18, the Court looks to scientific and sociological studies, picking and choosing those that support its position. It never explains why those particular studies are methodologically sound; none was ever entered into evidence or tested in an adversarial proceeding. As The Chief Justice has explained:

"[M]ethodological and other errors can affect the reliability and validity of estimates about the opinions and attitudes of a population derived from various sampling techniques. Everything from variations in the survey methodology, such as the choice of the target population, the sampling design used, the questions asked, and the statistical analyses used to interpret the data can skew the results." Atkins, supra, at 326-327 (dissenting opinion) (citing R. Groves, Survey Errors and Survey Costs (1989); 1 C. Turner & E. Martin, Surveying Subjective Phenomena (1984)).

Even putting aside questions of methodology, the studies cited by the Court offer scant support for a categorical prohibition of the death penalty for murderers under 18. At most, these studies conclude that, on average, or in most cases, persons under 18 are unable to take moral responsibility for their actions. Not one of the cited studies opines that all individuals under 18 are unable to appreciate the nature of their crimes.

Moreover, the cited studies describe only adolescents who engage in risky or antisocial behavior, as many young people do. Murder, however, is more than just risky or antisocial behavior. It is entirely consistent to believe that young people often act impetuously and lack judgment, but, at the same time, to believe that those who commit premeditated murder are--at least sometimes--just as culpable as adults. Christopher Simmons, who was only seven months shy of his 18th birthday when he murdered Shirley Crook, described to his friends beforehand--"[i]n chilling, callous terms," as the Court puts it, ante, at 1--the murder he planned to commit. He then broke into the home of an innocent woman, bound her with duct tape and electrical wire, and threw her off a bridge alive and conscious. Ante, at 2. In their amici brief, the States of Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia offer additional examples of murders committed by individuals under 18 that involve truly monstrous acts. In Alabama, two 17-year-olds, one 16-year-old, and one 19-year-old picked up a female hitchhiker, threw bottles at her, and kicked and stomped her for approximately 30 minutes until she died. They then sexually assaulted her lifeless body and, when they were finished, threw her body off a cliff. They later returned to the crime scene to mutilate her corpse. See Brief for Alabama et al. as Amici Curiae 9-10; see also Loggins v. State, 771 So. 2d 1070, 1074-1075 (Ala. Crim. App. 1999); Duncan v. State, 827 So. 2d 838, 840-841 (Ala. Crim. App. 1999). Other examples in the brief are equally shocking. Though these cases are assuredly the exception rather than the rule, the studies the Court cites in no way justify a constitutional imperative that prevents legislatures and juries from treating exceptional cases in an exceptional way--by determining that some murders are not just the acts of happy-go-lucky teenagers, but heinous crimes deserving of death.

To add insult to injury, the Court affirms the Missouri Supreme Court without even admonishing that court for its flagrant disregard of our precedent in Stanford. Until today, we have always held that "it is this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents." State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U. S. 3, 20 (1997). That has been true even where " 'changes in judicial doctrine' ha[ve] significantly undermined" our prior holding, United States v. Hatter, 532 U. S. 557, 567 (2001) (quoting Hatter v. United States, 64 F. 3d 647, 650 (CA Fed. 1995)), and even where our prior holding "appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions," Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/
American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477, 484 (1989). Today, however, the Court silently approves a state-court decision that blatantly rejected controlling precedent.


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