Washington, DC – Today the Supreme Court set an encouraging precedent in its 5-4 decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana. Patrick Kennedy was convicted of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter and sentenced to death under a Louisiana law that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those convicted of raping a child under the age of twelve. Today the Court found that the law violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” and reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case.
“The rape of a child is a horrific crime that deserves a swift and significant punishment,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project. “However, the Court’s decision wisely rejects the dramatic expansion of capital punishment that would undermine the long-standing principle of civilized societies that reserves the ultimate penalty for those who commit the most heinous murders. Such an expansion would have exacerbated the already intolerable level of error at the expense of both crime victims and those wrongly accused of these terrible acts.”
The Constitution Project’s Death Penalty Committee – comprised of supporters and opponents of capital punishment, and co-chaired by Gerald Kogan, former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and Beth Wilkinson, the prosecutor that secured a death sentence for Timothy McVeigh – previously called for a ban on death sentences for any crime not involving a homicide. In its report, “Mandatory Justice: Eighteen Reforms to the Death Penalty,” the Committee found that “Anything less than categorical exclusion provides too great an opportunity for the unconstitutionally overbroad, random, arbitrary, and capricious application of the death penalty.”