Sunday, June 29, 2008

Getting Tough On Child Rape

Soon after the Massachusetts House passed a bill earlier this month that would be tougher on the crime of child rape, the US Supreme Court set a limit on just how tough any state can be, when on Wednesday it held capital punishment for child rape to be unconstitutional. For further background on the case, see my previous post: Supreme Court to Consider Whether Death Penalty Can Be Imposed for Child Rape.


WASHINGTON — The death penalty is unconstitutional as a punishment for the rape of a child, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The 5-to-4 decision overturned death penalty laws in Louisiana and five other states. The only two men in the country who have been sentenced to death for the crime of child rape, both in Louisiana, will receive new sentences of life without parole.

The court went beyond the question in the case to rule out the death penalty for any individual crime — as opposed to “offenses against the state,” such as treason or espionage — “where the victim’s life was not taken.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said there was “a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and non-homicide crimes against individual persons,” even such “devastating” crimes as the rape of a child, on the other.

The decision was the third in the last six years to place a categorical limitation on capital punishment. In 2002, the court barred the execution of mentally retarded defendants. In 2005, it ruled that the Constitution bars the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18.


For information about Massachusetts criminal law, see the criminal law page of my law firm website.

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