CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SCOTUS Hears Death Penalty for Rape Case

Court_front_med From The Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up a major death penalty case testing whether capital punishment is constitutional for the rape of a child. It is the first time that the newly constituted Supreme Court will be examining what the standards are for determining what crimes can be punished by execution.

For the last three decades, the high court has limited the use of the death penalty, ruling that it can't be imposed against kidnappers who do not kill or even some accomplices to murder.

In 1977, the court, by a 7-to-2 vote, ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment for the rape of an adult woman. In that case, the victim was a 16-year-old woman — considered by the state to be an adult — raped by an escaped prisoner convicted previously for rape."

Execution is "excessive," the court said, for the rapist who does not take a human life.

In the 31 years since the decision, nobody has been executed for rape in the United States. But on Wednesday, the high court will hear arguments on the question of whether a person can be executed for rape if the victim is a child. Six states now have laws that allow capital punishment for child rape. Only Louisiana has actually sentenced anyone to death for child rape. The state allows execution for the rape of someone under age 13, and has two men on death row for the crime.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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