Graham, Kennedy, and Offenses Against the State

One simple way to understand Graham is that it is a corollary to Kennedy v. Louisiana (no death penalty for nonhomicide crimes) and Roper v. Simmons (no death penalty for juveniles) combined.  There is a curious disclaimer in the Kennedy case, however, that does not make an appearance in Graham, and that is this language:

Our concern here is limited to crimes against individual persons.  We do not address, for example, crimes defining and punishing treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug kingpin activity, which are offenses against the State.

In other words, even if no life is taken, the death penalty may be appropriate for this category of offenses.  So where does that leave children who commit these crimes?  The point here is not to advocate harsh sentences for young terrorists, but only to highlight an interesting, rarely discussed portion of the Kennedy opinion.

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2 Responses

  1. BL1Y says:

    I think the Supreme Court is aware that there are few drug kingpins who are minors. This language likely satisfies an intellectual curiosity about how we would treat such people…or rather, it satisfies the need to keep that debate open.

    I doubt we’re going to be trying any underage spies or drug lords. The possibility of an underage terrorist is pretty real, but we don’t give them trials anyways.

    Odds are this was just put in to get a justice or two on board with the majority and avoid unnecessary concurring opinions.