Supreme Court bans death penalty for child rape

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court made a split 5-4 decision on Kennedy v. Louisiana that executions are too harsh a punishment for child rapist. (Citation: 554 U.S. ___; 128 S.Ct. 2641; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5262; 2008 WL.)

It provokes one to think – what is an equitable punishment for a rapist who devastates and ruins a child’s life before she has had a chance to blossom? My apologies for the generalization of a female rape victim, but in this particular case, i.e. the Kennedy case, it indeed was a 8-year-old girl raped by her step-father. Justice Kennedy (in no relation to the petitioner) wrote in the majority opinion that “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” But what are the chances of the child leading a “normal” life past this traumatic experience? The girl was raped in March of 1998. The past ten years has assuredly been anything but normal for her.

Or consider the second Louisiana defendant, Richard Davis, who was given the death penalty in December for repeatedly raping a 5-year-old girl. As Justice Alito states in his dissenting opinion:
The Court today holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of raping a child. This is so, according to the Court, no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be.It doesn’t make sense to me that child rapists – no matter the degree of their crime – are categorically exempt from capital punishment while espionage and other “crimes against the state” are punishable by death.

Five states — Louisiana Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and (my new home-to-be) Texas — permits death penalty for child rape (Georgia currently sits on the fence on this issue). This decision effectively limits the individual states’ ability to apply what their residents deem a fit penalty for the most heinous of crimes. I’m not advocating that all child rapists be put to death, but, in cases where the nature of the crime is so appalling and abominable, the jury and the judge should be given the choice to sentence executions.

I’m not at all a fan of capital punishment. All human life, even those of most detestable criminals, is sacred, and death penalties should not be given out lightly without the sincerest consideration. But I think on this decision, on which the Eight Amendment (the “cruel and unusual punishment” one) and state’s rights hang in fine balance, I would have to side with the more conservative justices. (As an aside, I generally do not agree with what Justices Scalia or Thomas say, but this case would be an exception.)

With both presidential candidates disagreeing with this decision, it will be interesting to see the impact of this case on future cases.


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