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Fact Sheet: Juveniles
“The practice of executing [juvenile] offenders is a relic of the past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society. We should put an end to this shameful practice.”
– Justice Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, dissenting from Stanford v. Kentucky, Oct. 2002

  • The U.S. has executed at least 366 persons for offenses they committed as juveniles (below the age of 18).
  • The first recognized juvenile execution occurred in 1642, when Thomas Graunger was executed in Plymouth, Massachusetts for committing the crime of bestiality when he was 16 years old.
  • The youngest known person to be executed in the U.S. was James Arcene, a Native American boy who was 10 years old at the time of his crime.
  • Since WWII, the youngest known person to be executed in the U.S. was George Stinney, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was so small (weighing only 95 pounds) that the oversized mask fell off his face while he was being electrocuted by the state of South Carolina.
  • Since 1976, 226 death sentences have been imposed upon juvenile offenders. Only 3 states account for half of those death sentences-Texas, Florida and Alabama.
  • Since 1976, 22 juvenile offenders have been executed. The executions were carried out in seven states: Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Texas alone carried out 13 executions-almost two-thirds of the total.
  • There are approximately 73 juvenile offenders currently on death row.
  • The juvenile offenders currently on death row can be found in 12 of the 21 states that permit juvenile executions: Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and Virginia.
  • Texas accounts for 28 juvenile offenders on death row (more than one-third of the total), all of whom are located in only 16 of the state's 254 counties. In Harris County, Texas, where 10 of the 28 juvenile offenders are located, 3 out of every 4 residents oppose the execution of juvenile offenders according to a poll recently conducted by the Houston Chronicle.
  • Currently, 31 states (along with the federal government and the District of Columbia) prohibit juvenile executions. Of the 19 states that permit juvenile executions, 14 states allow 16-year-olds to be sentenced to death, while 5 states set the minimum age at 17.
  • Over the past eleven years, 8 states have exempted juveniles from their death penalty statutes – South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Indiana, Montana, New York, Kansas and Washington.
  • Legislation that would ban juvenile executions has recently progressed at least partway to adoption in a dozen states (Legislation progressed partway to adoption in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas; and legislation was introduced in Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania).
  • In contrast, not a single state has lowered the minimum age of execution during the same period.
  • Of the juvenile offenders currently on death row and those executed in the current era, 2 out of 3 have been either African American or Latino.
  • Of the 10 female juvenile offenders executed in the United States, 8 were African-American and 1 was Native American. In each of those cases, the victim was white.
  • Southern states account for 84% of all death sentenced imposed on juvenile offenders since 1973. Only 3 states - Texas, Florida and Alabama - account for half of those sentences.
  • Over the past decade, only 3 states have executed any juvenile offenders: Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma. Those 3 states account for 18 of the 22 executions of juvenile offenders that have been carried out since 1976.
  • The U.S. is 1 of only 5 countries—along with China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Pakistan—that have carried out the execution of a juvenile offender since 2000.
  • Since 1990, the U.S. has executed more persons than all other countries combined, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
  • In recent years, several countries have enacted laws to abolish the juvenile death penalty, including Yemen and Zimbabwe (both in 1994). Other countries, while not outlawing juvenile executions, have effectively ceased the practice – Saudi Arabia and Nigeria have not executed a juvenile offender since 1992 and 1997, respectively.
  • The U.S.'s unparalleled reliance on the juvenile death penalty offends no fewer than seven international human rights agreements, including the following:
    • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The U.S. signed the covenant, but entered a formal reservation to the prohibition against juvenile executions.
    • The American Convention on Human Rights. The U.S. has not ratified the convention.
    • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries that have not ratified the convention.
  • Recent medical studies on adolescent brain development contradict previously held notions that a person's brain is fully developed by age 14.
  • According to research conducted by Harvard Medical School, the frontal and pre-frontal lobes, which regulate impulse control and judgment, are the last to develop. Thus, "the very brain system necessary for inhibition and goal-directed behaviour comes 'on board' last and is not fully operational until early adulthood (about 18-22 years)."
  • Similarly, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry determined that the brain does not physically stop maturing until a person is approximately 20 years old and that this rate of maturation can be severely retarded by abuse and neglect - conditions that affect most juvenile offenders on death row.
  • 69% of Americans oppose the execution of persons for crimes committed below the age of 18, according to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2002.
  • The following professional organizations have expressed their opposition to juvenile executions: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Bar Association, American Law Institute, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, Amnesty International, Child Welfare League of America, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, International Human Rights Law Group, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, National Mental Health Association, and Physicians for Human Rights.
  • In Atkins v. Virginia (June 2002), the Supreme Court held that the 8th Amendment prohibits the execution of persons deemed to be mentally retarded because the practice violates "evolving standards of decency."
  • The Court based its decision upon several factors:
    • The enactment of legislation in numerous states to ban the execution of persons deemed to be mentally retarded. The Court noted that it was "not so much the number of these States that [was] significant, but the consistency of the direction of change"
    • The consensus among professional organizations opposing such executions
    • The apparent "diminished capacities" of persons deemed to be mentally retarded to control their impulses
    • Serious question as to whether such executions serve either of the recognized bases for the death penalty - retribution or deterrence
    • The special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons deemed to be mentally retarded, who are more vulnerable to giving false confessions and less able to provide meaningful assistance to counsel
  • The Court's opinion in Atkins is a "blueprint" of the arguments as to why juvenile executions should similarly be declared unconstitutional.
This Facts Sheet was produced by and is reprinted with the permission of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Facts Sheet: The Juvenile Death Penalty (last visited 20 August 2004).