Death Penalty Narrows

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Death Penalty Narrows

Post  Jennie on Sun Jun 29, 2008 7:52 pm

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and other members of the U.S. Supreme Court majority of five who struck down the death penalty for child rape are targets of bitter criticism in the wake of Wednesday's ruling. The emotional blowback is understandable, considering the devastating injuries suffered by the 8-year-old victim in the case at hand.

No one who has seen the record can be unmoved by the physical and psychological trauma the child had to endure at the hands of her stepfather or fail to be struck by his depravity.

But cases decided purely on emotion can make bad law. The majority headed by Justice Kennedy took a more judicious course.

We remain opposed to the death penalty in general on the grounds that it is unevenly and often wrongly applied, fails as a deterrent to capital crimes and is an inhumane act for a civilized society to employ.

In the case decided this past week, the court was correct as far as it went. It ruled out the death penalty for any crime against an individual "where the victim's life was not taken." Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said there was "a distinction between intentional first-degree murder and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons," even "devastating" crimes such as the rape of a child. However unpopular the ruling may be, this was a wise use of the principle of proportionality.

Only 6 states have death penalties for child rape, and no one has been executed for that crime in the United States for the past 44 years. Only 2 men both in Louisiana have been sentenced to death for the rape of a child. They will be resentenced to life without parole.

The 5-4 decision in Kennedy [the name of the stepfather] v. Louisiana follows two other limits placed on capital punishment by the Supreme Court in the past 6 years. The court has barred execution of mentally retarded defendants and people who were younger than 18 when the capital crime was committed.

The court has steadfastly refused to ban the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, which the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution bars. So far, only Justice John Paul Stevens is willing to take the leap to total abolition.

Still, decisions chipping away at the use of capital punishment are hopeful signs.

(source: Editorial, Hartford Courant)

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