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Minors' Rights

Aid for Women v. Foulston, 441 F.3d 1101 (10th Cir. 2006)

Outcome:    Unfavorable

Also under Abortions, Patient privacy 

Issue

The issue in this case was whether health care professionals in Kansas must report abortions on girls under 16 years of age, without exception, to the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

AMA interest

The AMA believes that the reporting of possible child abuse should fall within a physician’s professional judgment.

Case summary

The Kansas child abuse reporting statutes require health care professionals to report suspected injury from sexual abuse to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.  Also, Kansas law considers sex with a child less than 16 years of age to be statutory rape.  In response to a question from a member of the state legislature, the Kansas Attorney General stated that, under these laws, health care professionals must report any girls under the age of 16 who had an abortion to the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.  The Attorney General opinion further opined that any sexual activity by an unmarried person under the age of 16 must be reported.

A coalition of health care professionals sued in federal court to have the Attorney General’s opinion deemed a violation of the children’s right of privacy under the federal constitution.  The judge found that the opinion was such a violation, and he entered a preliminary injunction against prosecution of health care professionals for failing to report “sexual activity between adolescents under the age of sixteen and persons of similar age in which injury is not reasonably suspected.”  The defendants, the county and district attorneys in Kansas appealed.  The Tenth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded to the trial court, finding an abuse if discretion by the trial court in failing to adequately analyze the several factors required for a preliminary injunction.

AMA involvement

The AMA, the Kansas Medical Society, several specialty medical societies, and numerous other public health organizations filed an amicus curiae brief on January 6, 2005, to advise the court of the importance of maintaining confidentiality in the relationship between physicians and their minor patients.  The brief argued that adolescent sexual activity, even for children under the age of sixteen, is not necessarily injurious, so long as it is consensual and between children of similar ages.  Reporting of such activity, therefore, should be within the discretion of the health care professional and not mandatory.

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit brief.

Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010)

Outcome:    Favorable

Also under Criminal Law

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, when imposed on a person who committed a series on non-homicidal crimes while still a minor, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 37 of this convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case summary

Mr. Graham committed a series of non-homicidal crimes, the last of which he had committed while approximately one month short of his eighteenth birthday.  A Florida court sentenced Graham to life imprisonment without parole, and the case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The question addressed was whether a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for non-homicidal crimes committed by a minor is invalid under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.”

The Supreme Court ruled, in a split decision, that such sentences are unconstitutional, regardless of other circumstances.  Both the majority opinion and the dissent of Justice Thomas referred to the AMA amicus brief.

AMA involvement

The AMA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.  Although the brief did not explicitly support either party and did not urge the Court to rule one way or the other on the ultimate constitutional question, it did point out how children’s brains differ physiologically from adult brains and how such differences are likely to affect children’s personalities and ability to make considered judgments.

United States Supreme Court brief. 

Miller v. Alabama; Jackson v. Hobbs, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (U.S. 2012)

Outcome:    Neutral

Also under Criminal law

Issue

The issue in this case is whether a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, when imposed on a person who committed a homicide at the age of 14, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 37 of this convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case summary

During the course of a robbery, Evan Miller savagely beat and killed a man.  He then set a fire to try and hide the crime.  He did this when he was 14 years old.  An Alabama court sentenced Miller to life imprisonment without parole.  By statute, the trial court did not consider possibly mitigating circumstances, such as Miller’s youth.  The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court held that these criminal sentences did indeed violate the Eighth Amendment.  The Court held that Miller was entitled to a hearing on whether mitigating circumstances might mandate a lesser sentence.

AMA involvement

The AMA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.  Although the brief did not explicitly support either party and did not urge the Court to rule one way or the other on the ultimate constitutional question, it did point out how the brains of 14 year old children differ physiologically from adult brains and how such differences are likely to affect their personalities and ability to make considered judgments. 

United States Supreme Court brief

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

Outcome:    Very favorable

Also under Criminal law

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a death penalty sentence, when imposed on a person who committed murder while still a minor, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of capital punishment for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case summary

A Missouri court sentenced Mr. Simmons to death for committing a murder when he was 17 years old.  The Missouri Supreme Court commuted Simmons’ sentence, ruling that the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 violates the Eighth Amendment.  The case was then reviewed by the United States Supreme Court

By a split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied against persons who committed crimes while they were less than 18 years old.

AMA involvement

The AMA filed an amicus curiae brief, opposing the death penalty for juveniles, based on the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the United States Constitution.  The brief contended that scientific medical evidence shows that persons who commit crimes when less than 18 years of age are not sufficiently culpable, from a constitutional viewpoint, to warrant the death penalty.

United States Supreme Court brief