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Op-Ed: Former First Lady Calls for End Of Juvenile Executions in Nevada

By Rosalynn Carter

This op-ed was originally published in the April 23, 2003, edition of the Las Vegas Sun.

Guest Columnist Rosalynn Carter: Nevada should ban execution of juveniles

Rosalynn Carter is an advocate for human rights and mental health through her efforts at The Carter Center in Atlanta. The Carter Center is a nonprofit organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter.

Barring juvenile executions is consistent with fundamental principles of American justice, recent discoveries in neuroscience, international legal standards, and a growing trend against juvenile executions in the 22 states that still impose the death penalty.

Nevada Assembly Bill 118, which would eliminate the death penalty for individuals who commit offenses when they are under the age of 18, passed the Assembly in a 36-6 vote. The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate.

America's justice system punishes offenders according to their culpability. Adolescents simply do not have the maturity of adults and are therefore less responsible than adults who commit similar crimes.

This same reasoning has led us to enact laws prohibiting individuals under 18 years of age from entering into contracts, making medical decisions, purchasing cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and voting.

Recent scientific studies confirm that the normal adolescent's brain is undergoing significant changes in areas that calm emotions, control impulses and make decisions. We also know from recent research that nearly all of the juveniles who commit murder were subjected to significant abuse or neglect during childhood.

Acknowledging the lesser culpability of juvenile offenders does not minimize the suffering and impact upon their victims' families. Tragically, there are juveniles who commit terrible crimes. But children can be punished without being put to death.

Executing children detracts profoundly from the human rights tradition and global leadership of the United States. In fact, the United States is one of the few remaining countries that permits the execution of juvenile offenders, along with Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Moreover, the United States and Somalia are the only two countries that have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes a provision that prohibits capital punishment for those under the age of 18.

Fortunately, there has been significant momentum in the United States to eliminate the juvenile death penalty. Federal law and the laws of 28 states now prohibit death sentences for juveniles.

In the past four years, both Indiana and Montana passed laws barring capital punishment for child offenders, while Florida, Texas, and Arkansas had at least one legislative branch pass such legislation in recent sessions.

I hope that the 2003 Legislature will herald the end of juvenile executions in Nevada.

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