United States Justice Ruling Controversies: Prior Case Facts and Juvenile Death Penalties

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics it is estimated that for the last two decades approximately the approximately 70% of the arrests made yearly involve individuals who have previously served prison time[1]. In legal terms, this is referred to as Recidivism, which is defined as the act of an individual repeating an unlawful behavior prior to suffering a lawful consequence from another criminal act in a corrections facility[2]. Recidivism is used to find the ratio or percentage of former convicts who have been re-arrested for offences similar to their first conviction for the purpose of re-engineer or re-design sentencing in order to reduce the number of repeat offenders committing crimes after much government costs and resources have been used to extinguish such behavior[3]. In addition to the courts right to use prior conviction to determine the sentencing of an individual, Victim Impact Statements can be used in order to show the gravity of the second offence and precedence for giving a stunner conviction to repeat offenders.  From the above statement, it is clear that the judicial system has a special treatment of repeat offenders; however, in most cases individuals try to restrict the court from using previous conviction issues to be used to determine their current or ensuing issues. Despite issues seeming straightforward, the Bureau of Justice Statistics Grades Recidivism in terms of years in order to determine what kind of class conviction one is placed before sentencing; additionally, the reasons behind one convictions may not be relative to the second arrest a factor that should be discussed.  In the process of offering more information on the matter, this paper uses the Old Chief v. United States case as a practical study for explaining Recidivism, conviction as well as sentencing of repeat offenders, the use of Victim Impact Statements in cases as well as use of the Death Penalty for Minors.


The US criminal system is one of the most complex globally and is covered by a number of numerous state as well as federal legislations that are multifaceted and need a variety of expertise watch over.

Old Chief v. United States Case Beliefs


After chaos reputed involving at least one gunshot, Old Chief (petitioner) was charged with inter alia, possession of a firearm by an individual with a prior conviction. Before the case was presented, the petitioner argued out the he was unfairly charged as the violation of 18 U. S. C. § 922(g) was based on a prior conviction, which was not related to current charge. He argued that with this, he would be judged with prejudice by the jury who would associate both cases yet they were unrelated. The courts refused to allow the petitioner this privilege; however, insisted that the evidence provided in this case would only be based on the petitioner’s current case and not otherwise. This consequently was to offer the Old Chief with the confidence that the court would not be prejudicial in passing his sentence. The controversy in this case arose when the Court of Appeal found that the government had been entitled to include probative evidence in affirming their conviction. This took the form of victim Impact Statements from the petitioner’s previous case.

Sentencing (Held).

During the sentencing of the case it was highlighted that when a district court misuses its discretion under regulation 403 by rejecting a defendant’s request to concede prior case facts subsequently giving a ruling over the petitioner’s objection then prejudice is present. This is even more so when the previous offence offers a higher chance of a verdict to be tainted with improper consideration from the jury.  However, in cases such as Old Chief v. United States where the repeat offence is highly related the court is allowed to connect both cases. In the above case victim Impact Statements from his prior conviction. Rory Dean Fenner’s was allowed to make a victim statement on how the action of old Chief had affected his life considering the petitioner was found guilty on all counts including assault resulting to serious bodily harm.


According to Old Chief the presentation of this information to the jury would be going against rule 404(b) which states that evidence from other crimes, acts or any other wrong doings is not admissible to give a lawful description of an individual in the process of showing action on an active case[4]. On the other hand, Rule 401 states that evidence is considered relevant to a case when it has the capability to make the existence of any fact describing a consequence more or less probable than it would without evidence [5]. During the United States v. Breitkreutz case, the petitioner was charged with possession of a firearm and not theft considering the nature of his prior conviction, which is a similar precedence in this case[6]. Old Chief’s conviction was that of assault making him more dangerous to the society with a gun in addition to the fact that the weapon was discharged during the fracas showing intent. Part of rule 404(b) contemplates on using evidence from previous cases for the purpose of showing proof of motive; opportunity; knowledge; identity, absence of mistake or accident, plan or preparation. Before one suggest that the court was prejudicial, it would be prudent to as the following questions:

  1. Why Old Chief was “Knowingly” in possession of a firearm.
  2. What was the intention of discharging the weapon during the fracas.
  3. What motives did he hold for owing or possessing a weapon considering his prior conviction that involved assault that caused bodily harm.

The reason to include prior criminal activity is not to bring prejudice but to give reason beyond doubt. Facts about the case is that Old Chief was involved in an altercation with a firearm. The victim Impact Statements in this case was not submitted to make Old Charlie’s character questionable. The charge is possession of a firearm after the fact the low prohibits Old Chief from doing so; however, the question is why it is unlawful for the said individuals to possess a gun. Consequently, because he has prior charges of assault that include assault that caused significant harm.

Juvenile Death Sentences

Since the first juvenile death sentencing in 1642, there have been a total of 366 similar occasions recorded with the last taking place in 2003. Additionally, of the above-mentioned figure twenty-two were carried out over a period tree decades amounting to 2.3% of all executions in this period[7].  The reason for these executions is based on the laws of the land and the juvenile criminal system. (Cite) states that the core reason of the justice system to sentence juvenile offenders is to make them accountable for any criminal actions that they take part in and in the process, provide rehabilitation services that would prevent repeat offences. From the above the intentions of the juvenile criminal systems is highly commendable; however, the death penalty does not hold any rehabilitation value. Today 38 states in the US permit or have the death penalty as a form of punishment. Twenty-three of these states permit the execution of individuals who committed a variety of capital offences before reaching the age of 18 years. From the above information, it is clear that the issue of juveniles facing death row vary from state to state with (cite) stating the variations have no relation to the degrees of the juvenile crimes[8]. The issues of juveniles facing the death sentence has been a matter of much controversy, leaving approximately 74 individuals in the U.S. waiting for judgments on capital cries they committed as juveniles.

Supporters of juvenile death penalty see this form of punishment as a deterrent against similar capital rimes by juveniles, and is a means of attaining public safety and the best way to sanction serious unlawful acts. On the other hand, opponents of juvenile death penalty believe the punishment fails as a warning to stop capital crime among in addition to the fact that it is inherently cruel and a clear point of wrongful conviction. According to the U.S. constitution, a juvenile aged 16 year of age is not allowed by law to alcohol for a number of reasons one of which is they do not have developed cognitive traits. In other words, they are not enough to make proper decisions. It would then be out of line to send a child to death row yet they have very limited idea of the consequences of their actions. Additionally, when sending a juvenile to face the ‘the Chair’ may seem cruel considering they have not lived their lives before it is taken away from them.  Matters such as the one presented above have led juvenile death sentencing to become one of the most debated issue in the land with several Supreme Court’s rulings as well as high profile cases increasing public interest; close examination and extensive analysis as presented by academics, policymakers as well as legislators. This paper uses two cases to pass a simple but comprehensive verdict on the matter.

Atkins v. Virginia

On 16th August 1996, 18-year-old Daryl Atkins and William Jones abducted one Eric Nesbitt against his will robbed him and after driving him to a secure location shot him eight time to the point he died of excessive bleeding. CCTV footage showed the two individuals committing the offence and later they were tracked own and charged for capital murder. During the investigation, Atkins was found to have inconsistencies in what he stated was what happened; it was later proved that he was the one who pulled the trigger and the Court found him guilty sentencing him to death. In an attempt to appeal an IQ, report from Atkins school showed that he had a 59-point score suggesting he had a less than average suggesting he was slightly mentally retarded. Individuals with the same character as Atkins are poor witnesses, are easy to confess in order to reduce the discomfort of questioning, as well as can be convinced to do or act without willingness[9]. In this case, it is possible that the inconsistencies provided by Atkins as well as his earlier confessions and to some extent due to his condition was convinced and held beyond his will to kill Eric Nesbitt. Sentencing him to face the death penalty would be a form of wrongful conviction considering the lack of clear-cut evidence. From the example above, there is a likely chance that other such cases were mishandled in the past considering the offenders did not have IQ tests done to show their mental states before committing capital crimes.

Roper v. Simmons

In 1993, Christopher Simmons aged 17 plotted to commit murder as well as burglary an objective he succeeded in achieving when he and his friend Charles Benjamin robed, abducted and threw Mrs. Shirley Crook over the state pack bridge where she died. The court case seemed straight forward with evidence pointing out that Simmons video confessions as well as witness accounts from one of his acquaintances John Tessmer proved beyond doubt that the accused had committed the above mentioned crimes. However, in 2005 accepted to introduce the notion of mental stability into the picture considering had at the time of the crime gone through a hard childhood that would change his perspective leading to a life of crime. In case Simmons had grown up in a stable family, he would not have committed the offence and this case would not have taken place[10].


In both the above mentioned cases both juveniles committed capital offences and the victims lost their lives and warranted the death penalty; however, due to their ages it can be argued that in a different environment as well as other surrounding factors the cases would be different. All the juveniles who have faced death row had committed offences that warranted for such punishment; but how and what drove them to summiting these offences was never determined. It would be better for juveniles not to face the death penalty.


The US department of justice faces a multifaceted array of cases and the passing of judgment may be considered controversial. This paper centers it discussion two areas that have faced high controversy over the years in judgment the first being the use of prior crimes to give foresight in other rulings a factor that brings considerable prejudice. Old Chief was right to be concerned about his previous conviction affecting his case; however, the court was fair in only using the information to present a fair case. Another issue of discussion is the factor of juveniles facing the death penalty a factor that goes against the obligations of the juvenile criminal system. Additionally, after reviewing two cases, it is clear that juveniles should not face the death penalty.






Brase, Charles Henry, and Corrinne Pellillo Brase. Understandable statistics: concepts and methods. Cengage Learning, 2011.

Freeman, Michael D. A., and Oliver R. Goodenough. Law, mind and brain. Farnham, England: Ashgate. 2009.

Hurley, Kolleen. Atkins v. Virginia: the validity of presumed deficits. Thesis (Ph. D.) University of Mississippi, 2006.

Neubauer, David W., and Henry F. Fradella. America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning, 2015.

Orenstein, Aviva. Acing evidence: a checklist approach to solving evidence problems.
St. Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing. 2014.

Saltzburg, Stephen A. Trial tactics. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section. 2007.

Schlueter, David A., and Jonathan D. Schlueter. Texas rules of evidence manual. Huntington, NY: Juris Publishing. 2015.

Weinstein, Jack B. Casenote legal briefs. keyed to Weinstein, Mansfield, Abrams and Berger’s Evidence. New York: Aspen Publishers. 2002.

Zamble, Edward, and Vernon L. Quinsey. The criminal recidivism process. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 2000.

[1]Henry, Charles Brase, and Brase, Pellillo Corrinne Understandable statistics: concepts and methods. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2011.

[2]Edward, Zamble and Quinse, L. Vernon. The criminal recidivism process. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press2000.

[3] David W. Neubauer, and Fradella, F. Henry. America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2015.

[4] Jack, B. Weinstein. Casenote legal briefs. keyed to Weinstein, Mansfield, Abrams and Berger’s Evidence. New York: Aspen Publishers. 2002.

[5] Stephen A. Saltzburg, Trial tactics. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section. 2007.

[6] Aviva. Orenstein. Acing evidence: a checklist approach to solving evidence problems.
St. Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing. 2014.

[7] Stephen A. Saltzburg, Trial tactics. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section. 2007.

[8] David A. Schlueter, and Schlueter, D. Jonathan. Texas rules of evidence manual. Huntington, NY: Juris Publishing. 2015.

[9] Kolleen. Hurley. Atkins v. Virginia: the validity of presumed deficits. Thesis (Ph. D.) University of Mississippi, 2006.

[10] Michael D. A., Freeman and Goodenough, R. Oliver. Law, mind and brain. Farnham, England: Ashgate. 2009.