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Reform Jewish Movement Applauds High Court's Decision to Review Constitutionality of Juvenile Death Penalty

Contact:Alexis Rice or David Segal

Pelavin: The death penalty, especially when applied to our nation's young, debases our penal system and brutalizes our society.

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2004 -Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a Missouri Supreme Court decision in which the 4-3 majority opinion held that the juvenile death penalty violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

The Reform Movement has long held that, in the words of a 1959 Union for Reform Judaism resolution, "there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime." Capital punishment neither deters criminals nor heals their victims' families. In fact, the death penalty, especially when applied to our nation's young, debases our penal system and brutalizes our society. In the case of juveniles, who may not know the difference between right and wrong, we must be open to the possibility of spiritual repentance and rehabilitation.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court has banned the execution of juveniles under the age of 16, the justices stopped short of overruling the death penalty for criminals under 18. In a 1989 decision, they justified their limited ruling by citing the lack of a "national consensus" on the juvenile death penalty. The Missouri Court based its recent ruling on the development of that very national consensus: 17 states with the death penalty bar it for juveniles; only 22 juveniles in six states have been executed since 1989.

In the case of Roper v. Simmons, which the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear today, the Missouri Supreme Court commuted a death sentence to life imprisonment for a man who committed robbery and murder when he was 17. Recognizing the horror of this crime and reaffirming our pledge to work to prevent crime at its roots, we commend the Missouri Supreme Court's decision to rid our criminal justice system of the cruel practice of executing juveniles.

We express our sincere hope that the U.S. Supreme Court, taking into account evolving national opinion, action in state legislatures, and the highest principles of compassion and mercy, will affirm the ban on juvenile executions.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .

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