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U.S. one of a few nations with juvenile death laws

Public hesitant, however, to impose sentence

From Kevin Drew

Public hesitant, however, to impose sentence

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(CNN) -- Of the 20 U.S. states that carry the death penalty for juvenile murderers, only Texas has used it with frequency -- executing 13 since capital punishment was reinstated.

Texas is ahead of other states by a large margin -- Virginia is second in line with three and Oklahoma, having executed two juvenile killers, comes next.

According to the American Bar Association, 14 states that have juvenile death laws have never carried out such executions. Additionally, 86 percent of the death sentences imposed on juvenile offenders are reversed, the bar association reports.

Of the 21 states that carry a death penalty for juvenile offenders -- defined as someone who committed the crime under the age of 18 -- 16 put the minimum age at 16, the other five at 17.

Historically, Americans are hesitant about sending a juvenile offender to death row.

A 2001 University of Chicago study found 62 percent of those polled supported the death penalty, but only 34 percent supported it for juvenile offenders. A May 2002 Gallup poll showed 72 percent of Americans backed the death penalty, but only 26 percent supported it for juvenile offenders.

The United States continues to come under fire from abroad for state laws allowing execution of juvenile offenders.

International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child all have provisions to this effect.

More than 110 countries whose laws still provide for the death penalty for at least some offenses have laws specifically excluding the execution of child offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being parties to one or another of the above treaties.

The United States remains the only country that has failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It joins the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as the seven countries known to have executed prisoners who committed a crime under the age of 18 since 1990, according to Amnesty International, a human rights group that opposes the death penalty.

The country that has executed the greatest number of juvenile offenders since 1990 is the United States, with 17, Amnesty International reported.

The number of juvenile killers receiving death sentences in the United States is decreasing, according to Northwestern University's Bluhm Legal Clinic. In 1999, 14 juvenile offenders were sentenced to death, seven in 2001, four in 2002 and so far, one in 2003.

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