Saturday, January 31, 2004

Virginia legislature delays consideration of teenager executions

As reported here ("Panel defers to court on the execution of juveniles," 1/31/2004) in the Norfolk paper, a committee of the House of Delegates voted down a proposal to ban the death penalty for juveniles, largely because some legislators preferred to see the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court case involving the constitutionality of such executions.

If the Atkins case is any indication, however, the legislators' failure to act will be used by the court as evidence of the evolving views of the death penalty that would justify some new rule against juvenile executions. In Atkins, the Supreme Court looked to the deliberations of "the American public, legislators, scholars, and judges" between 1989 and 2002 over executions of the mentally retarded, noting in particular "the dramatic shift in the state legislative landscape that has occurred in the past 13 years." Virginia legislators might have wanted to stand up and be counted, one way or the other, rather than wait for the Supreme Court to figure out which way the legislative wind is blowing, assuming that is now the measure of what is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment.

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