For a brief span in the 1970s, the death penalty as a whole was made illegal in this country. In 1972, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court in the case of Furman v. Georgia found that capital punishment violated the Eighth Amendment.
Gregg v. Georgia overturned this universal prohibition of execution, stating that the death penalty was only unconstitutional if it did not give proper consideration of the character of the defendant or other potential mitigating factors along these lines. While these cases did not specifically address capital punishment as a consequence of juvenile crimes, they address the tension between the legality of the death penalty and one’s fitness for State-sponsored death sentences.
It would not be until 1988 that the juvenile death penalty was to be abolished, at least in part. That year, the ruling of the Supreme Court in Thompson v. Oklahoma superseded the rights of states to execute for juvenile crimes committed under the age of 16, again citing the Cruel and Unusual Punishment standard. However, this was only a partial victory for child’s rights activists. By national standards, it was still perfectly acceptable to sentence someone to die who was 16 or older, a fact confirmed by the majority decision of Stanford v. Kentucky a year later.
In 2005, the juvenile death penalty was outlawed for all juvenile crimes and all juvenile criminals, not just those under the age of 16 or mentally handicapped persons. Once again, it was the Supreme Court that found the practice to be unconstitutional in its decision in Roper v. Simmons, noting in its findings that few states even applied the juvenile death penalty consistently.