Court Rejects Executions for Child Rape
June 27, 2008
The Supreme Court on Wednesday outlawed executions of people convicted of raping a child.
In a 5-4 vote, the court said the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in child-rape cases violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Patrick Kennedy, 43, was sentenced to death for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter in Louisiana. He is one of two people in the United States, both in Louisiana, who had been condemned to death for a rape that was not also accompanied by a killing.
“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.
Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens in the opinion; Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
There has not been an execution in the United States in 44 years for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim. The Supreme Court banned executions for rape in 1977 in a case involving an adult female victim.
Wednesday’s decision does not affect the imposition of the death penalty for other crimes that do not involve murder, including treason and espionage, Kennedy said.
Kennedy concluded that in cases of crimes against individuals — as opposed to treason — “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.”
“The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave,” Justice Alito wrote in dissent. “It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty.”
Kennedy also acknowledged that the decision had to come to terms with “the years of long anguish that must be endured by the victim of child rape.”