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← A Reflection of the Death PenaltyWhat is the Criminal Justice →

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Death penalty is a verdict put in a court as a punishment for a crime (Kronenwetter 202). However, the capital punishment rules vary from state to state. There are states which fully accept the death penalty and there are those which outlawed it or are against its adoption. In order to compare them a parallel between them should be drawn. Florida and New York States are the ones that have differences in their judicial system.

The situation in Florida according to the issue of juveniles and capital punishment is interesting. Florida is considered to be one of the states where death penalty is applied without a parole for juveniles. This sentence is counted to be harsh towards the minors, as persons who were convicted of crime were 13 years old. Moreover, Florida is the only state where offenders of this age are not permitted to a parole (Court Debates 3). Viewing the situation from the side, it is possible to imagine how brutal the sentence could be seen for those who are opponents of the juvenile without a parole cases. Defenders of a parole argue this question, giving reasonable arguments for it. The strongest and the most explicit arguments in support of allowance a parole for juveniles are connected with psychological aspects. Being adolescent means that the neurological system is not fully formed, and these people are not as developed as adults socially (3) Defendants under the age of 18 are not mature enough and cannot be punished in the same way as adults. Moreover, a person may change mentally in different circumstances at the time while committing a crime and at the time of being present in court as there are factors which may influence the offender's consciousness such as racism (“Should juveniles be tried as adults?”). Consequently, the situation with death penalty in Florida faces difficulties while sentencing in the court as there are many factors to be paid attention to. 

New York State differs from Florida by its legal attitude towards capital punishment. It is important to mention that New York applied two kinds of punishment while sentencing. One of them was execution with the help of electric chair as in the famous case of William Kemmler in 1890, when he murdered his wife with a hatchet. It turned out that this method of punishment was very common until the United States replaced it with lethal injection. However, lethal injection did not exist for a long time in this state and in 2007 the capital punishment became legally forbidden (The Death Penalty in New York, 32). However, the debates which took place before 2007 for and against death penalty were connected with killings of the police officers in New York. Therefore, many law enforcement groups wanted to punish offenders for these crimes with capital punishment. After many debates for and against capital punishment, it was denied (33).

Considering different cases in these two states is essential part of the research. Firstly, the juvenile cases in Florida should be reviewed. In Graham v. Florida case, Terrance, a guy at the age of sixteen tried to make invasion into the store and rob it with his accomplice. The fact that he did not have criminal convictions benefited him. Moreover, he pleaded guilty and it served as easing of the punishment (Equal Justice Initiative). These circumstances led to three years of probation. Basically, he had three years to demonstrate his obedience and good behavior. In a year Terrance was noticed to be involved in a robbery with home invasion. At that time Terrance denied his guilt in the crime but accepted the fact of disobedience to the law. However, it did not help him to be deprived of the punishment. Terrance Graham did not have a process in a court as usually. He was sentenced to life in prison without a parole right. Graham's lawyers applied to a state court about reconsideration but got rejected. Afterwards, Graham reported to the U.S. Supreme Court about the fact, that his punishment was unusual according to all the cases happened in the USA. Graham was accused of robbery, not homicide; consequently the punishment he had supposed to bear was crucial because only 7% of people got in prison without a parole who committed a non-homicide crime (Equal Justice Initiative). Due to this case the Supreme Court claimed that people who committed a non-homicide crime at the age under 18 are not permitted to be put into prison for life without a parole right. The facts which affected this decision were debates about life without a parole mentioned above. American Psychological Association pointed out that immaturity of the offenders at the moment of committing a crime shows their unreadiness to be responsible for what they have done; another fact is that juveniles can be vulnerable to the surrounding environment (APA). Talking about the result of this process it is vital to clarify the recent outcome of this case. According to The Florida Times Union, Graham was resentenced to 25 years in prison. This decision disappointed Terrance as he expected to have 15 (Life Sentence Changed to 25 Years).

Graham v. Florida case demonstrates flexibility of the justice system in Florida; to be precise, how it changed from being conservative and strict towards juveniles offenders. The rules which seemed to be firm even regarding people under the age of 18 started to vanish slowly to the human rights. Is it really fair to put in prison for life a person who did not commit a homicide? From my point of view it is not fair enough to treat such crime with a life sentence without parole. Hence, the decision of revising the case repeatedly affected the judicial system with implications which go further to the cancellation of the automatic life sentence without parole for juveniles who did not murder anyone (Court: No Automatic Life without Parole for Juveniles). This is huge breakthrough in the legal system.

According to “the Supreme Court debates” case of Sullivan v. Florida has similar features in solving it as Graham v. Florida. At the age of thirteen Joe Harris Sullivan was convicted in rapes and robbery, having 2 accomplices with him who were older. He was the youngest one among the defendants and was accused a life sentence without a parole. This verdict is stricter than the 2 ones which his accomplices received. The arguments that were spoken against this sentence contain the main thoughts of being harsh sentenced for a non-homicide crime as in Graham v. Florida. Moreover, it was noted that only Florida has individuals at the age of 13 who got the same sentence as Sullivan (p.3). More than that, such kind of sentencing violates the Eighth Amendment which says that states are not allowed to use brutal punishments (LII). Basically, after being imprisoned at the age of 14, Sullivan got reconsideration of his case after Graham v. Florida affair.

The fact that Sullivan got reinvestigation of the case may prove the following. After the example of Graham v. Florida people started thinking deeply about other cases connected with minors. People who were accused before Graham got his right for release were waiting to be done the same from their attorneys’ side. Consequently, guys who are not juveniles at this moment in prison have a chance for normal life in the future as it was observed by psychologists, that minors have a real possibility to be improved with years after committing a crime under age.

As it was mentioned before, New York State abolished capital punishment in 2007. People who committed a crime at the age under 16 are considered to be transferred into Family Court for the further examination. If a crime committed is serious, a person will be treated as adult and such cases are held in the Supreme Court. However, it does not mean that juveniles will be sentenced to life for a serious crime. If a person is accepted guilty, then he or she becomes a “juvenile offender” with further implications in the penalty (New York City Family Court). 

In addition, the New York State does not struggle with the issues of juveniles without a parole or capital punishment. The Supreme Court made it easy by means of rejection of the law with the death row making it impossible for minors to be sentenced to life without a parole. The claim that minors should be treated as minors is justified in New York State.

The case occurred in the State, where death penalty is constitutional. Enmund v. Florida case involves Earl Enmund who was a driver with two more guys, when they committed a robbery and murder. At the time when it was happening Enmund was in the car waiting his accomplices (Trigilio and Casadio 1378). Consequently, he did not commit any murder at all as well as he did not steal money as his accomplices did. Technically, Enmund is not guilty as all because the crime was performed by his accomplices. However, Enmund is involved in the crime from the legal point of view. In fact, he is accomplice and his two partners are principal offenders. By means of helping in committing a murder and robbery indirectly, and driving the perpetrators to the safe place he was sentenced to death. Enmund was accused of a first-degree murder both with robbery. From the legal side, Enmund is guilty due to the verdict assigned.

However, looking at the real situation, a person who did not commit a murder and a person who did not intend to do so should not be sentenced to death as it is unconstitutional according to Justice White (1379). Claiming such sentence unconstitutional the law justifies a person that did not commit a crime and robbery, giving a chance for rehabilitation in the future. Here is one of the examples when minors should be treated as minors. New regulations which occur due to such cases ease the situation for juveniles, as under the circumstances, where for example, Enmund would kill someone, he could have not been considered for rejection of the sentence. The rules of the possible evolution exist and may vary as in the Enmund v. Florida case.

Enmund v. Florida, Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida are cases where evolution in the verdict is possible. In the first case, judges reconsidered the penalty due to the circumstances of not committing a homicide, which is fair for a person who was convicted for not killing. Graham v. Florida demonstrates development of the judicial system in Florida, from being punished to life sentence for non-homicide crime to commutation, where the punishment decreased to 15 years of prison instead of the life sentence. Sullivan v. Florida has the same issue of minors committing a non-homicide crime and being sentenced to life in prison with further reviewing of the case due to the age and harsh verdict for not killing anybody. These facts say that judicial system changes and people's opinion alters towards the minors. Juveniles are people who do not fully realize their actions and are not aware of the consequences and must have a right to be conscious again.

According to Stephen Vincent, there are ideological and practical difficulties after Graham v. Florida case. He is talking about the possible outcomes of the case which could be different (12). If the Court remains the death penalty for this case, then it is more likely to face problems in the future with offenders and people around as the majority claims to consider death for children as a cruel verdict. It means that legal system in Florida remains conservative, without any possibility to change. On the other hand, the more likely approach to the case happened is to prove the fact that “kids are different” and they do not deserve a life sentence or death penalty. This opinion was supported by Justice Kennedy who cited different works in order to provide a fair punishment for a juvenile. This case, in Vincent’s opinion, is the best way of solving the problem with kids who committed non-homicide offenses. In a practical sense, situation is complicated by Florida itself as it denies parole in any case. For a kid sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison a parole is the only way to be released. However, laws in Florida are strict enough for this verdict and the only thing that could replace the life sentence is the long-term imprisonment, which is much higher than the life expectancy in general. Vincent also argues that Florida could accept a parole but after a long-term imprisonment, or when the fact of juvenile life with a parole is written in books – documented (Vincent, 13).

These discussions are interesting according to the provided case, as it shows other ways of evolution in the law system.

In fact, evolution of the law system is ongoing process. The more cases appear, the more possibilities are available for change. New cases make judicial system more flexible in its decisions. The changes which may happen in the law are referred to the states where death penalty or life in prison without a parole is active. New York State is not among such states, as there such practice was abolished a couple of years ago. However, it makes New York a civilized state.

Touching the clemency issue it is important to note that it has two components of treating this notion. The first one is mercy and another one is correction of a mistake made by executives while sentencing. Today clemency operates as a path to correct drawbacks which judicial system has (Cardozo, 2696). Hence, nowadays clemency is a good variant for cases where juveniles got life in prison without a parole; secondly, it serves not only like a merciful act, but also like a political act (2699). However, there is a flaw in the clemency regulations. A Juvenile Clemency Board emerged in 2007 and as results show the procedure does not work effectively. Applications from offenders started to be reviewed since 2008, but only two applications were revised (2702).  It means that acceptance of the clemency by law is not a decision that will work well for those who is imprisoned at this time.  

Going back to the New York State, it is essential to mention that clemency does not work there as an act due to abolition of the death penalty. Consequently, there is no need to defend clemency in New YorkState as commutations can be applied to all the cases occurring in this state without clemency as a law.

Both Florida and New York State show how different the situations in one country could be. A great advantage of the judicial system in Florida is that this state has death penalty as a punishment for offenders. It can be argued that juveniles do not deserve to be dead or sentenced to life for example, but having the capital punishment as a verdict helps a lot to weigh opportunities for a change in the law system, showing its flaws and way outs. 

Plainly, judicial system with clemency is an escape for juveniles who are not ready for holding responsibility for the committed crimes. Minors should be treated as minors according to the law and according to the facts American Psychological Association provided. Differences will exist within states as each of them represents the identity shown in the judicial system as well. To avoid accidents with minors accused in crimes, society should provide them with comfort in their life. Minors are children who should be treated as not fully formed personalities. 

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