STANFORD v. KENTUCKY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
87-5765
Petitioner 
Kevin Stanford
Respondent 
Kentucky
Consolidation 
No. 87-6026
Advocates
(Argued the cause for Kentucky)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner Wilkins)
(Argued the cause for Missouri)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner Stanford)
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Facts of the Case 

At 17 years old, Kevin Stanford was convicted by a Kentucky jury of murder, sodomy, robbery, and the receipt of stolen property. Stanford was sentenced to death under a state statute which permitted juvenile offenders to receive the death penalty for Class A felonies or capital crimes. Stanford appealed his sentence and his case was consolidated with that of Wilkins v. Missouri, involving a 16 year old's appeal of his death sentence following a conviction for murder in Missouri. Both Stanford and Wilkins alleged that the imposition of the death penalty on offenders as young as themselves violated their constitutional rights.

Question 

Does the imposition of the death sentence on convicted capital offenders below the age of 18 years old, violate the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Kentucky, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

No. In a 5-to-4 decision the Court held that in weighing whether the imposition of capital punishments on offenders below the age of eighteen is cruel and unusual, it is necessary to look at the given society's evolving decency standards. With respect to American society, there is no national consensus regarding the imposition of capital punishments on 17- or 16-year- old individuals. Of the 37 states which permit capital punishment, 12 prohibit the death penalty for offenders below the age of 17 while 15 states prohibit capital punishment for 16 year olds. Moreover, discrepancies in national opinion polls, interest group views, and professional association studies, all indicate a lack of unanimity concerning the acceptability of death sentences for such relatively young offenders. Thus, the decision whether to subject 17 or 16 year olds to capital punishment must be made locally by the states and cannot be categorically pronounced as cruel and unusual punishment at this time.

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STANFORD v. KENTUCKY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 July 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_5765/>.
STANFORD v. KENTUCKY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_5765/ (last visited July 25, 2014).
"STANFORD v. KENTUCKY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_5765/.