Dear Aunt Sophie,
You have no idea how it feels to be reviled until you’ve made a really unpopular decision. Fortunately for us, we’re rather insulated, but we still have feelings.
We’re judges who are called upon to settle very important cases. In fact, when people say they’re going to “take it all the way to the Supreme Court”, they mean us, so you see we’re not kidding about our importance.
Recently we decided a case in which a teenager planned to tie up a woman and toss her off a bridge, and, having confided his intentions to a friend, he did so. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. Now of course everyone knows this is horrible behavior. We were as repelled by this dastardly deed as everyone else. However, this boy was only seventeen years old. In other words, he was not yet eighteen. (By now everybody knows that seventeen-year-olds don’t think like eighteen-year-olds.)
No one would want his own son put to death, so we didn’t feel we should allow someone else’s boy to be put to death. We decided it would be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Let us explain and we hope you’ll be able to follow our logic even though you have an untrained mind.
Most people who have seventeen-year-olds occasionally threaten to kill them. But just because you say to a child “If you do that again I’ll kill you” doesn’t mean you actually will. In fact, most people do say it now and again but most people never do it. That’s what makes actually killing them unusual. Also, even though we might sometimes want to kill them, we’d never let anyone else do it. So if we wouldn’t let the government kill our own children, how could we let it kill somebody else’s child?
The cruelty comes in once they’ve been sentenced. Once they’re on death row their only chance to have a normal childhood is gone forever. Is it not cruel to deprive a young person of his childhood?
While they used to put teen-age killers to death, standards of decency have evolved in the civilized world, especially in Europe, where they understand the barbarity of treating young people who have barely begun their lives as if they were hardened criminals
We feel we owe it to the rest of this global society to be more like them instead of relying solely on our own parochial precedents and only thinking selfishly about our “independence”.
Our decision that sentencing anyone under the age of eighteen to death is unconstitutional also makes it very convenient for state judges, who won’t have to agonize over each individual defendant.
You’d think people would be happy that we’ve seen to it their children can’t be put to death by the state for things they do while they’re still children, but they don’t seem to appreciate what we’ve done for them. How can we convince them that it’s all in their best interests?
The First Street Five
People are just so darned lacking in compassion these days. It’s hard to believe that anyone could be upset to hear that you’d rescued that poor puppy from the pound.
Clearly the lower courts are out of control. Giving this youth the death sentence for his misadventure is appalling when you think about all the horrible things he could have done, like sexually harassing his victim, or telling her she was old or fat before dumping her into the river. And throughout the whole trial no one so much as hinted that he thought she might not be scientifically gifted.
If you’re going to set the limit for the death penalty at eighteen, why not put it at nineteen? Or twenty-six? Or sixty-five? If it’s cruel to deprive a youthful murderer of his childhood, it’s doubly cruel to deprive him of his adulthood. An eighteen-year-old has barely lived long enough to make up his mind about the benefits of getting a sex-change operation. He’ll never even see his Social Security. Now that’s cruelty.
Of course you’re right when you say standards of decency have evolved. The benighted societies of yore considered various forms of entertainment indecent that we now accept as normal, like tossing frozen turkeys through the windows of moving cars, raping and stoning joggers in city parks and depositing newborns in garbage cans at high-school proms.
At least you’re not seeking inspiration in countries where body parts are routinely hacked off. Instead, you look to a country where the teenaged torture-murderers of a toddler score new identities after enjoying a few years as guests of the Kingdom. How evolved can you get?
I doubt you’ll be able to convince people it’s in their best interests to keep them up to their eyeballs in teenaged psychopaths, but maybe I’m wrong. In any case, since it’s your feelings that are important, let me know what goes through your mind the next time a recipient of your largesse kicks in your front door.
Good luck and God bless.