Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Supremes rule on child rape

I didn't think the Supremes would uphold the death penalty for children rapists.

You must shoot them if you catch them in the act.

I'm just kidding. Give them due process, then kill them.

What? I'm just sayin'

Court bans death penalty for child rape
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that executions are too severe a punishment for raping children, despite the "years of long anguish" for victims, in a ruling that restricts the death penalty to murder and crimes against the state.

The court's 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12. It spares the only people in the U.S. under sentence of death for that crime — two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.

The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other states that allowed executions for child rape that does not result in the death of the victim.

However devastating the crime to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, "the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child." His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years, a factor that weighed in Kennedy's decision.

Rape and other crimes "may be as devastating in their harm, as here, but 'in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,' they cannot be compared to murder in their 'severity and irrevocability,'" Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.

The victim in the case decided Wednesday was an 8-year-old girl raped by her stepfather at their home in Harvey, La., outside New Orleans.

Angry Louisianans who backed the law said the court was out of touch.
"The opinion reads more like an out-of-control legislative debate than a constitutional analysis," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. "One thing is clear: The five members of the court who issued the opinion do not share the same 'standards of decency' as the people of Louisiana."

The decision resonated in the presidential campaign, too, where Democrat Barack Obama objected to it. Obama said there should be no blanket prohibition of the death penalty for the rape of children if states want to apply it in those cases.

With the court already on record this term reaffirming the constitutionality of capital punishment in a case dealing with lethal injection, Kennedy dwelt at length on the need to limit the death penalty to the most heinous killings.

The decision allows death sentences to continue to be imposed for crimes such as treason, espionage and terrorism, which Kennedy labeled as crimes against the state.
The Supreme Court banned executions for rape in 1977 in a case in which the victim was an adult woman.

Forty-four states prohibit the death penalty for any kind of rape, and five states besides Louisiana have allowed it for child rapists — Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

The court struggled over how to apply standards laid out in decisions barring executions for the mentally retarded and people younger than 18 when they committed murder. In those cases, the court cited trends in the states away from capital punishment.

In this case, proponents of the Louisiana law said the trend was toward the death penalty, a point mentioned by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent.

"The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave," Alito wrote. "It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty."

But Kennedy said the absence of any recent executions for rape and the small number of states that allow it demonstrate "there is a national consensus against capital punishment for the crime of child rape."