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The New York attorney general’s office has filed an amicus brief on behalf of eight states, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ban the execution of people for crimes they committed when they were under 18. The brief, filed Monday, urges the Court to uphold a ruling of the Missouri Supreme Court. By a 4-3 vote, the Missouri court overturned the death sentence of Christopher Simmons for murdering a woman during a robbery in 1993, when he was 17. In 1988, the Supreme Court banned the execution of youths younger than 16 in Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815. The question in the Missouri case, Roper v. Simmons, 03-633, which is expected to be argued in October, is whether the execution for the crimes of youths 16 and 17 is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. New York has banned such execution since at least 1963, and the state had no death penalty on its books from 1977 until 1995. When it re-enacted capital punishment in 1995, it carried forward the ban on executions for the crimes of juveniles. In addition to New York, the brief was submitted on behalf of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and West Virginia. New York Solicitor General Caitlin J. Halligan, Deputy Solicitor General Daniel Smirlock and Assistant Solicitor Generals Jean Lin and Julie Loughran are the counsel of record on the brief. The argument mounted in the amicus brief builds on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling barring the execution of the mentally retarded under “evolving standards of decency” recognized by the Eighth Amendment ( Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304). The Court upheld execution for crimes by 16- and 17-year-olds in 1989, the brief points out. Since then, seven states have barred such executions, bringing the total to 18 states. During that time, the federal government also has barred execution for the crimes of juveniles. Twelve states have no death penalty. The decisions of 18 states “to draw the line at death” in the face of the enactment of harsher measures to deal with serious juvenile crime, the brief asserted, suggests “that the consensus baseline of 18 is immovable.” In the 13 years before the U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of the mentally retarded in Atkins, the number of states barring such executions grew from two to 18. The brief prepared by the state attorney general’s office is contrary to one submitted by six states in April urging the Supreme Court to uphold Missouri’s law. That brief, which was written by the Alabama attorney general’s office, argued that “there is no magic in 18. Just as there are adults who, for whatever reason, cannot fully comprehend the wrongfulness of their actions, there are adolescents — 16 and 17 year olds — who can.” The states joining in the Alabama brief were Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. A large number of other briefs have been filed against capital punishment for juveniles’ crimes. Among the groups taking that position are the European Union, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association.

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