This is a breaking news story; the Supreme Court has just issued a ruling determining that a child rapist cannot be executed. The Court ruled that the death penalty is reserved for murder. The decision was authored by Justice Kennedy, who was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsberg, Stevens, and Souter.
Here's the story via CNN:
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday that child rapists cannot be executed, concluding capital punishment is reserved for murderers.
Patrick Kennedy, 43, was on Louisiana's death row for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.
The ruling stemmed from the case of Patrick Kennedy, who has been on Louisiana's death row since 2003, when he was sentenced to be executed for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that "evolving standards of decency" in the United States forbid capital punishment for any crime other than murder. Execution of Patrick Kennedy, the justices ruled, would be unconstitutional.
Patrick Kennedy, 43, would have been the first convicted rapist in 44 years to be executed in a case in which the victim was not killed.
Kennedy was convicted of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter in her bed. The attack caused internal injuries and bleeding to the child, requiring extensive surgery, as well as severe emotional trauma, Louisiana prosecutors said.
"Difficulties in administering the penalty to ensure its arbitrary and capricious application require adherence to a rule reserving its use, at this stage of evolving standards and in cases of crimes against individuals, for crimes that take the life of the victim," Anthony Kennedy wrote in Wednesday's majority opinion.
More updates as they come in...
Update 1: SCOTUSblog, as always, does a great job in summarizing the legal significance to the case:
Barring the death penalty for any crime that does not take the life of the victim, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for the crime of raping a child. If the victim does not die or death was not intended, capital punishment for that crime violates the Eighth Amendment, the Court ruled in an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. The case was Patrick Kennedy v. Louisiana (07-343). The broad declaration that death sentences should be reserved "for crimes that take the life of the victim" will apply, the Court said, to crimes against individuals — thus leaving intact, for example, a death sentence for treason.
The decision split the Court 5-4. The decision nullified a Louisiana law that provided capital punishment for raping a child under age 12. The law was since amended to apply to raping a child under age 13.
The way I'm reading this as of now, this case is a victory to opponents of the death penalty. It limits the use of capital punishment to a more narrow use. It's also a further sign of Justice Kennedy's general opposition to the death penalty. One can only hope that this case helps continue the narrowing use of the antiquated and outrageous practice of state execution.
Update 2 : I started reading through the opinion, which is available here. This is a great nugget from Kennedy's opinion:
It does not follow, though, that capital punishment is a proportionate penalty for the crime. The constitutional prohibition against excessive or cruel and unusual punishments mandates that the State’s power to punish "be exercised within the limits of civilized standards." Trop, Cite as: 554 U. S. __ (2008) 25 Opinion of the Court
356 U. S., at 99, 100 (plurality opinion). Evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society counsel us to be most hesitant before interpreting the Eighth Amendment to allow the extension of the death penalty, a hesitation that has special force where no life
was taken in the commission of the crime. It is an established principle that decency, in its essence, presumes respect for the individual and thus moderation or restraint in the application of capital punishment. See id., at 100.