Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Death Penalty for Child Rapists

The United States Supreme Court today in a 5-4 opinion in the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana,(1) authored by Justice Kennedy and joined in by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, ruled that the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause prohibits states from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the child's death. The Court also ruled that the application of this law to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment renders the Louisiana statute under which petitioner Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for the brutal rape of his eight-year-old stepdaughter unconstitutional. As for the death penalty in Florida, however, it will be business as usual.

The facts of Kennedy were compelling: Patrick Kennedy brutally raped his eight-year-old stepdaughter on March 2, 1998 and coached her to lie about it to the police. That morning, the victim was transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital where she was examined in the emergency room. The victim’s predominate injury was vaginal with profuse bleeding. Her entire perineum was torn and her rectum protruded into her vagina. A pediatric surgeon was called in to repair the damage, which was repaired successfully. However, as a result of pain, the victim had to be fed gallons of stool softener through a tube to permit her to begin defecating again. At trial, the defendant was convicted of aggravated rape and a unanimous jury recommended that Kennedy receive the death penalty, which the sentencing court imposed. He appealed his conviction and sentence and the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed both, reasoning that the death penalty was proportionate in the circumstances because