ROACH v. AIKEN
474 U.S. 1039 (1986)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

ROACH v. AIKEN , 474 U.S. 1039 (1986)

474 U.S. 1039

James Terry ROACH
v.
James AIKEN, Warden et al.
No. 85-6155 (A-531)

Supreme Court of the United States

January 9, 1986

On petition for writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The application for stay of execution of the sentence of death scheduled for Friday, January 10, 1986, presented to THE CHIEF JUSTICE and by him referred to the Court is denied. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

I adhere to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). Accordingly, I would vacate the death sentence and remand the case so that the state court can determine what sentence-other than death-may be appropriate.

In addition, this case affords us an opportunity to address the important question whether an accused may, consistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, be sentenced to death for a capital offense he committed while a juvenile. Although "[c]rimes committed by youths may be just as harmful to victims as those committed by older persons, . . . they deserve less punishment because adolescents may have less capacity to control their conduct and to think in long-range terms than adults." Twentieth

Page 474 U.S. 1039 , 1040

Century Fund Task Force on Sentencing Policy Toward Young Offenders, Confronting Youth Crime 7 (1978). As we stated in Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982):

    "[Youth] is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage. Our history is replete with laws and judicial recognition that minors, especially in their earlier years, generally are less mature and responsible than adults. Particularly 'during the formative years of childhood and adolescence, minors often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment' expected of adults. Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622, 635, 3043 (1979)." Id., 455 U.S., at 115- 116 (footnotes omitted).

The need for solicitude for the particular susceptibility of juveniles is well reflected by the facts of this case. The trial judge found that petitioner acted under duress or under the domination of an older person, and that he was suffering from mental retardation and a personality disorder. See Roach v. Martin, 757 F.2d 1463, 1468-1469 (CA4) ( 1985). In addition, petitioner now presents evidence suggesting that he suffers from the debilitating effects of Huntington's disease. Under these circumstances, even accepting the Court's current interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, sentencing petitioner to death may be inconsistent with the " 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,' " Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S., at 173 (1976) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 598 (1958) (plurality opinion of Warren, C.J .)), and may provide no more than "marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes." Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 312, 2764 (1972) (WHITE, J., concurring). " Even if some percentage of adults are deterred by the death penalty, the deterrent effect tends to lose much of its power when imposed upon an adolescent." Streib, Death Penalty for Children: The American Experience with Capital Punishment for Crimes Committed While Under Age Eighteen, 36 Okla.L.Rev., 613, 639 (1983). I would grant the petition for certiorari to resolve this important issue, and would stay petitioner's execution until we decide the matter. At the very least, in light of the evidence suggesting that petitioner suffers from Huntington's disease, I agree with Justice MARSHALL that the stay should be granted and the case held pending our decision in Ford v. Wainwright, cert. granted, 474 U.S. 1019 (1985). [474 U.S. 1039 , 1041]


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