Supreme Court - Execution of Child Rapist is Cruel and Unusual

posted by on Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"We hold the Eighth Amendment prohibits the death penalty" for the rape of a child where the crime did not result and was not intended to result, in death of the victim." Kennedy v. Louisiana, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority. http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-343.pdf.

As a result of the United States Supreme Court's decision decided this morning, Patrick Kennedy has escaped the death penalty and instead will be forced to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison. The crime for which Ms. Kennedy was convicted is best described by Justice Kennedy as "one that cannot be recounted in these pages in a way sufficient to capture in full the hurt and horror inflicted on his victim or to convey the revulsion society, and the jury that represents it, sought to express by sentencing petitioner to death." However, the Supreme Court held that the principals of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment require that the use of the death penalty be restrained and only resorted to for the worst of crimes. The Court's precise words were: "The rule of evolving standards of decency with specific marks on the way to full progress and mature judgment means that resort to the penalty must be reserved for the worst of crimes and limited in its instances of application." "In most cases justice is not better served by terminating the life of the perpetrator rather than confining him and preserving the possibility that he and the system will find ways to allow him to understand the enormity of his offense.

In writing the opinion, Justice Kennedy stressed that the "standards of decency" by which cruel and unusual punishment is judged under the Eighth Amendment are constantly evolving. What may have been the societal standards that prevailed in 1791 when the Eighth Amendment was adopted are not the "current prevail" of today's society. In essence, Justice Kennedy and the majority of the court held that today's society does not approve of executing those convicted of offenses where another life is not taken. This may or may not change in the future depending upon how our societal standards of decency evolve.

To date, only six states authorize the death penalty for child rape.