June 25, 2008
Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty for Child Rape
The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Wednesday that sentencing someone to death for raping a child is unconstitutional, assuming that the victim is not killed.
“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
The court overturned a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which had held that child rape is unique in the harm it inflicts not just upon the victim but on society and that, short of first-degree murder, no crime is more deserving of the death penalty.
Justice Kennedy, while in no way minimizing the heinous nature of child rape, wrote that executing someone for that crime, assuming that the victim was not killed, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which draws its meaning from “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
“When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
The relatively small number of states that allow the death penalty for the rape of a child demonstrates a “national consensus” against it, Justice Kennedy wrote. Moreover, he wrote, sentencing someone to death for raping a child could have terrible, unintended consequences, given the years that typically go by between a crime and the execution of the defendant.
“Society’s desire to inflict death for child rape by enlisting the child victim to assist it over the course of years in asking for capital punishment forces a moral choice on the child, who is not of mature age to make that choice,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
The dissenters were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., generally regarded as the conservative wing of the tribunal.
Continue reading article here. [Brooks Holland]
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