PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/151/00
EXTRA 76/00 Death penalty / Legal concern 3 October 2000
USA (Alabama)Jeffrey Franklin, aged 19
Nineteen-year-old Jeffrey Franklin is charged with murdering his parents,
Gerald and Cynthia Franklin, and with attempting to murder three of his siblings.
The Madison County District Attorney’s Office is intending to seek the death
penalty against him in violation of international law, which forbids the use
of the death penalty against those who were under 18 years old at the time
the crime was committed.
Jury selection began on 2 October in Huntsville, Alabama, and the trial, which
is likely to take two to three weeks, is expected to begin this week.
Jeffrey Franklin was 17 years old when his family was attacked, reportedly
with a hatchet, on 10 March 1998. In 1999, he was found mentally incompetent
to stand trial. Following treatment, it has been determined that he is now
able to stand trial. The defence have entered a plea of not guilty by reason
of mental disease or mental defect.
Amnesty International opposes capital punishment under all circumstances. Some
108 countries are abolitionist in law or practice, but in contrast to these,
the USA not only retains the death penalty, it also consistently violates
international standards in its pursuit of judicial execution. One blatant
example is its use of the death penalty against children, i.e. those under
18 at the time of the crime. Since 1993, there have been 17 known executions
of child offenders worldwide. The USA carried out 12 of these, including four
this year. Some 80 child offenders await execution in 16 US states. See USA:
Crying out for Clemency: The case of Alexander Williams, mentally ill child
offender facing execution (AMR 51/139/00, September 2000).
The principle that children should never pay for their crimes with their lives
stems from universal recognition of their immaturity and potential for
rehabilitation. The use of the death penalty against child offenders violates
numerous international agreements, including the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the
Child. The latter has been ratified by all 193 United Nations (UN) member states,
except for the USA and Somalia. The USA ratified the ICCPR in 1992, while
attempting to reserve the right to execute child offenders. The Human Rights
Committee, the UN expert body which oversees compliance with the treaty, has
ruled that the US reservation is invalid and should be withdrawn.
On 17 August 2000, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of
Human Rights adopted a resolution affirming that the use of the death penalty
against child offenders violates customary international law. A principle of
customary international law is one that is a general practice accepted as law
and is binding on all countries, regardless of which treaties they have or
have not ratified. The Sub-Commission stated its unequivocal condemnation of
such use of the death penalty and called on all offending countries to abolish
it, and “in the meantime, to remind their judges that the imposition of the
death penalty against such offenders is in violation of international law”.