CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Kennedy (Defendant) was convicted of raping his eight year-old stepdaughter. Although she did not die, Defendant was sentenced to death under Louisiana law. He appealed, challenging the sentence as unconstitutional.
A statute allowing the death penalty for a case where a child was raped, but the crime did not result, nor was intended to result, in her death is unconstitutional.
Defendant was charged and convicted of the aggravated rape of his eight year-old stepdaughter. The victim was injured and required emergency surgery, but she did not die. At trial, Defendant was sentenced to death under a Louisiana law that allowed capital punishment for the rape of a child under the age of 12. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Does the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibit the imposition of the death penalty in a case where a child was raped, but the crime did not result, nor was intended to result, in her death?
(Kennedy, J.) Yes. A statute allowing the death penalty for a case where a child was raped, but the crime did not result, nor was intended to result, in her death is unconstitutional. Capital punishment must be restricted to a narrow category of offenses involving the most serious crimes. Society’s standards as to what crimes are appropriate for this category can be found by looking at state statutes and practices. The Court must also evaluate the sentence under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. No jurisdiction has executed an individual for rape of an adult or child since 1964 and no individual has been executed for any other nonhomicide crime since 1963. Notwithstanding Louisiana’s sentence of one individual to death for the rape of a child, there is no national consensus supporting such a sentence for a nonhomicide offense. There is a distinction between intentional first-degree murder and nonhomicide crimes, even when the nonhomicide crimes involve terrible crimes against children that result in fear, injury, and prolonged mental suffering. Capital punishment is not proportional to the crime of child rape and would not fulfill the social purposes of capital punishment—retribution and deterrence. A death sentence brings with it multiple proceedings, creating an unfair and burdensome long-term commitment for the child victim. Additionally, such a severe sentence may lead to reduced reporting of child rape, particularly when family members are involved. Reversed.
The Court found that capital punishment was excessive for this offense when analyzed against its purposes of retribution and deterrence. Allowing capital punishment for such a crime may actually be against a child victim’s best interests, especially since many of these types of offenses are committed by family members. The severity of the punishment could cause families not to report the crime.