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Statement by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter on the Missouri Supreme Court Ban on Executing Juveniles

CONTACT: Kay Torrance

ATLANTA….The Missouri Supreme Court's ruling that executing juveniles is unconstitutionally cruel is the most recent and resounding indication of positive changes in public attitudes about government executions. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally retarded individuals violates "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

The Missouri court followed this reasoning that the death penalty should not be imposed on those who are least capable of mature understanding, no matter how grave their crimes. Acknowledging the lesser culpability of juvenile offenders does not minimize the suffering and impact upon their victims' families. But children can be punished without being put to death. I applaud the Missouri court's decision and encourage other state courts and legislatures to adopt the same rule.

Twenty-eight American states already prohibit capital punishment for people under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes, and five states have adopted legislation banning such executions recently. Seven international treaties prohibit juvenile executions, and the United States and Iran are the only two countries in the world that formally allow the practice. In 2002 and 2003, the states of Texas and Oklahoma are the only two jurisdictions in the world known to have carried out juvenile executions.

The same principle that the Missouri Supreme Court followed in its decision also should apply to cases involving people suffering from mental illnesses. As the American public becomes better informed about mental illnesses, I hope similar decisions will evolve regarding the execution of people who are mentally ill when they commit a crime. I pray for a time, in the very near future, when no more juveniles, mentally retarded individuals, or people suffering with mental illness will be executed in the United States.

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