Social & Domestic Issues

A Minor Matter of Maturity: Abortion vs. Murder

People imagine that judges are naturally endowed with special wisdom or that it comes to “rest” on those who don a black robe. Oh, that it were so.

Consider that the state of our laws can result in the following contradiction regarding a minor’s maturity:

A 13-year-old girl convicted of murdering her newborn infant with premeditation and malice aforethought cannot be sentenced to death because she’s too immature to appreciate the consequences of her decision. The same 13-year-old can be mature enough to end the life of her unborn child by abortion, even at the point of birth.

In Roper v. Simmons, the Court reversed its 16-year precedent that states could apply the death penalty to 16 and 17-year-olds, and held that those who are convicted of murder while under the age of 18 may not be sentenced to death. Roper holds that minors under 18, as a matter of law, are too immature to appreciate the consequences of their decision to take a human life. It’s what the law calls a “conclusive presumption,” meaning that it’s not rebuttable no matter how much evidence the state might present to prove otherwise. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, reasoned:

    First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, “[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.” †¦ (“Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult”). It has been noted that “adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.” … In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent.

    The second area of difference is that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. †¦ (“Youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage”). This is explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less control, or less experience with control, over their own environment. †¦

    The third broad difference is that the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed.

Apparently, judicial “wisdom” is quite late in coming to “rest” or maybe there are devolving standards of wisdom linked to “evolving standards of decency.”

Whether or not you agree with Roper is not the point here. But all rational people ought to care whether there is consistency and logic in our laws and their application.

Contrast Roper with the Supreme Court’s rulings regarding a minor’s right to end the life of her unborn child. While mouthing concerns for a minor’s vulnerability, immaturity and need for parental involvement in important decisions, the Court’s rulings permit a minor to demonstrate sufficient maturity to make the decision on her own. In Planned Parenthood Association v. Ashcroft (1983), the Court held:

    A State’s interest in protecting immature minors will sustain a requirement of a consent substitute, either parental or judicial. It is clear, however, that “the State must provide an alternative procedure whereby a pregnant minor may demonstrate that she is sufficiently mature to make the abortion decision herself or that, despite her immaturity, an abortion would be in her best interests.”

Death penalty: A minor is never sufficiently mature to appreciate the consequences of taking a life and no evidence is allowed to prove sufficient maturity.

Abortion: Minors can be sufficiently mature to make a decision about taking a human life and evidence must be allowed to prove sufficient maturity.

A conundrum or just a lack of common sense?

In Florida, Judge Ronald Alvarez of the Palm Beach County Circuit Court has ruled that a 13-year-old girl is “competent” enough to decide whether to take the life of her unborn baby. The girl, identified as “L.G.,” is about 14 weeks pregnant. She is in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families, which told the court that she’s too young to make the decision. L.G. became pregnant after running away from a state home last January.

Florida has no parental consent law for minors who want an abortion, thanks to the “wisdom” of the Florida Supreme Court. In In re T.W. (1989), the court held that there was no compelling state interest that justified parental consent in the face of the minor’s right of privacy.

Then there’s the Florida Supremes when it comes to executing juvenile murderers prior to the Roper ruling. In Ellis v. State (1993), the Florida Supreme Court held: “Whenever a murder is committed by one who at the time was a minor, the mitigating factor of age must be found and weighed, but the weight can be diminished by other evidence showing unusual maturity. It is the assignment of weight that falls within the trial court’s discretion in such cases.” A minor’s age mitigated on his or her behalf against imposition of the death penalty but it could have been rebutted by evidence of “unusual maturity.” The presumption is against sufficient maturity when it comes to the death penalty but for the minor seeking an abortion.

The ACLU and the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County are representing L.G. Now it’s time to factor in the ACLU’s consistency and logic or lack thereof.

The ACLU is a chief advocate against execution of those who commit murder as a juvenile. They weighed in on the Roper case with an amicus brief. It’s that lack of maturity thing according to an article on its Web site, “Stop Killing Kids: Why it’s Time to End the Indecent Practice of the Juvenile Death Penalty”:

    These rules have been established precisely because we believe that adolescents are less mature than adults and less capable of making good decisions. Why then under capital punishment laws, should juveniles be found to be the most culpable and worthy of the harshest punishment? Our knowledge that children are different than adults has been further confirmed by rapidly advancing technology in brain development research. Recent studies have shown that the parts of the brain that govern judgment, reasoning, and impulse control are not fully developed until the early 20’s.

At the same time, they argue that minor girls are mature enough to make the abortion decision all by themselves. One wonders why they support executing unborn minors.

Maybe all the lawyers at the ACLU need is the “wisdom” inherent in donning a black robe. Maybe they already have it.


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