Court's death penalty ruling was correct one

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Court's death penalty ruling was correct one

Post  Jennie on Mon Jun 30, 2008 12:42 pm

Court's death penalty ruling was correct one

New Hampshire put 24 people to death from colonial times through 1939, when the state carried out its last execution. Only one, Thomas Powers, was executed for the crime of rape, the offense committed by Patrick Kennedy, the Louisiana man on death row who brutally assaulted his 8-year-old stepdaughter.

On Wednesday, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court correctly ruled that executing someone who neither took a life nor committed a crime against the state is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The court began by citing language from an earlier decision that said the amendment should be interpreted according to "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Those standards were much different in 1796, when Powers, a 20-year-old black man who raped a white girl, was executed. According to David Watters, director of the Center for New England Culture, Powers sold his body to "a number of doctors" for dissection and one of them, a Hopkinton physician, allegedly tanned his hide and used it to make a pair of boots.

For decades, the Monitor has opposed the death penalty because it is barbaric, often counterproductive, levied arbitrarily and unfairly, and dehumanizing to society. So far, however, capital punishment under limited circumstances is constitutional, according to the court. It will remain so until that document is amended or the high court decides that society has changed enough that it is cruel and unusual for the state to take a life in retribution.

Patrick Kennedy's crime of child rape is among the most vile that can be committed. It is understandable that many believe it should be punishable by death, though only five states permit it. More would, perhaps, had the Supreme Court in an earlier decision not ruled that the rape of an adult woman did not justify the death penalty.

Those who argue that making child rape a crime punishable by death would lead to less reporting of rapes and that rapists would be even less likely to let a child survive to bear witness against them, might be right. But those are practical, not constitutional reasons for opposing the death penalty for rape. What's less defensible, however, are Justice Anthony Kennedy's arguments based on his presumed knowledge of the mind of child victims and the trauma that a death penalty trial would cause them.

The death penalty should be abolished, but for now it exists. As the court's majority pointed out, it is the ultimate sanction that justice permits, and its use should be reserved for crimes equivalent in harm and permanence. That means a crime that involves taking of a life.

Last week's decision continues what has been a gradual, but consistent limiting of the use of capital punishment. It is consistent with evolving standards of decency, standards that eventually will make the death penalty unthinkable.

(source: Editorial, Concord (N.H.) Monitor)

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