Skip to main content

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.

Originally posted to circlesnshadows on Wed Jun 25, 2008 at 07:54 AM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site