Louisiana, one of only five states that has laws on the book permitting the death penalty to be applied not just for murder but also for child rape, is the first state actually to have sentenced anyone to death for anything besides murder in over forty years, and now has a man on death row who was convicted not for murder, but for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. After Louisiana's highest court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of that man's sentence, the US Supreme Court has now accepted the case for review, and will most likely hear arguments in the case in April.
Despite the Louisiana court's majority opinion that death sentences for child rape will protect children, the possibility of such death sentences may actually make children far less safe, as children who are rape victims would more likely be killed by their abusers, as the National Association of Social Workers (see the article below), has pointed out. Read the Washington Post article below to see yet more reasons, suggested by critics in the article, why child rape is not a crime that should get the death penalty.
Furthermore, if the US Supreme Court permits any state to carry out such sentences, it will further tarnish the human rights record of our country, which should instead be moving toward the abolition of capital punishment. Throughout the civilized world, capital punishment is recognized as a human rights violation. I'm with the civilized world on this one. But let's be realistic. Let's hope we can get at least five justices on the Supreme Court to do the right thing this time, and continue to reserve the death penalty for the crime of murder.
Justices to Consider Death Penalty Issue -Legality in Case of Child Rape at Stake, by Robert Barnes, Washington Post, January 5, 2008
A divided Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state's law allowing the death penalty for someone who rapes a child under the age of 13, with the majority saying they could not think of a 'non-homicide crime more deserving.'
'Since children cannot protect themselves, the state is given the responsibility to protect them,' the opinion said.
Kennedy was convicted after he reported to police in 1998 that his stepdaughter had been raped. The girl at first told police that she was assaulted by two boys in her garage in suburban New Orleans while sorting Girl Scout cookies.
But police arrested Kennedy when they found a trail of blood in the house. Still, 20 months passed before the girl identified her stepfather as her attacker. He was convicted in 2003.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a brief urging the court to take the case because it said capital punishment was not fitting for a crime whose prosecution usually depended on the testimony of a young child.
'Such testimony is often unreliable because many children are susceptible to suggestion; they may confuse the suggestions of others with authentic memories; their stories may change dramatically depending upon when and by whom they are interviewed; and they recant their allegations -- whether those stories inculpate or exculpate the defendant -- at alarmingly high rates,' the brief said.
The National Association of Social Workers also asked the court to take the case, saying such laws do not protect children. In a brief the association said the statute 'will likely have exactly the wrong effect,' since offenders, knowing they will face execution whether or not they kill their victim, may decide it is worth it to get rid of a witness.
The case was among six that the court added to its docket yesterday. Cases accepted by the court at this time of year generally are argued in April, which is usually the last month the court hears arguments before it adjourns, typically at the end of June."
For information about Massachusetts criminal law, and children and the law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.