Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Two for Two - Supreme Court Gets It Right Again: No Death Penalty for Child Rapists

by Katherine Scardino

Once again, I am writing about a controversial Supreme Court decision. Last week, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, and opined (in a 5 to 4 count) that Louisiana’s law allowing for the death penalty for child rapists was unconstitutional. Radio and television talk show hosts, citizens, and even John McCain, again, made statements openly and clearly that they thought the Supreme Court had made a wrong decision.

The Kennedy case basically stands for the proposition that the death penalty in the United States shall be reserved for individuals who intended to kill their victim and did cause the death. The death penalty is not appropriate for people who cause extreme and long-lasting harm but do not cause a death. The opinion talks about prior cases where the Supreme Court stated that we, the United States, may not execute mentally retarded people, or people under the age of 17.

We have made distinctions before about who would actually be eligible for the death penalty. Our highest Court said "capital punishment must be limited to those offenders who commit a narrow category of the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution."

While there are naysayers and critics of the Court, I can firmly state that I am proud of each and every justice who voted for this decision. I know it is not popular. I can hardly imagine the pain a parent must feel when his or her child has been abused. But this is the right decision.

With July 4th approaching, I think it is appropriate for each of us to take a moment and think about our country and how far we have come in the last 200-plus years. We have come from hanging, to firing squad, to electric chair, and now to lethal injection.

The newspapers consistently tell us about inmates who have been exonerated by DNA and released from lengthy prison sentences and even some from Death Row. In fact, tomorrow, right here at Women in Crime Ink, you'll read the personal account of one such man whose death sentence was reversed.

And courts aren't alone in making fatal mistakes. A couple of years ago, a Connecticut lawyer took the law into his own hands, killing his neighbor based on his child's accusation--later determined to have been false--that she had been molested by the neighbor.

It is my humble opinion that jurors--at least in my previously death-happy jurisdiction, Texas--are beginning to hesitate to render a verdict of death. Texas now has the "life without parole" choice in death penalty cases and that is causing the hesitation.

Statistics have shown that it is cheaper on the taxpayers to lock up the murderers for life than it is to execute them. And, this "life sentence" means exactly that--there is no possibility of parole--ever. Plus there is always the possibility of a "mistake" somewhere down the appellate process, and if so, the individual is still around to be released.

So while we still have the death penalty, it is becoming eroded by our evolving standards. This is a good thing.


Paralegal Sandy said...

Kathrine said:
Statistics have shown that it is cheaper on the taxpayers to lock up the murderers for life than it is to execute them.

Kathrine, how does statistics explain this???

andy kahan said...


This is one area of the death penalty where you and I agree.
I thought the pursuit of executing child rapists was pure politics.
The real reason why I was against this is the reality that most children (over 80%) are sexually assaulted within the family. As sadistic and heinous these crimes are the victimized children would now have to bear a lifetime of emotional scars of having the additional psychological burden of being responsible for sending 'Uncle Bill or Aunt Sue' to death row.

There are enough issues surrounding the death penalty that can be debated from here to eternity but a high percentage of those who believe in capitol punishment were in agreement with the Supreme Court.

Leah said...

I was upset about the decision at first because I believe that child rapists deserve to die. But, perhaps with the DP off the table, they would be less likely to murder their young victims so that they don't leave a witness. And, child rapists will get a more appropriate punishment by being released into the general population of a prison. I hope!

TxMichelle said...

I can't say that I agree here. The fact of the matter is these monsters end up getting out time and time again only to rape again and still move on to commit murder.
They just don't want to be caught. Period. The DP is not a deterrent. I am sorry, but this crime to me is right up there with murder. Hurting a child in this manner has life long effects that cannot be cured. A dead person cannot feel anymore pain. That may sound harsh, but the ones who suffer afterwards are the victem's relatives and loved ones. In the case of child rape everyone including the victem suffers. I know this from personal experience.
DNA testing should be done again in all violent crime cases by outside labs regardless of the penalty on the table.

If the DP has been taken off the table, then LWOP for a FIRST offense should be on the table.
Nothing less will do.
You cannot stop these monsters. They cannot be fixed.
As I have always said. You shoot a rabid dog don't you?

Leah said...

I agree with you Michelle, there isn't anything worse than a person that harms a child. And that LWOP should be on the table and nothing else will do! There really isn't any point in letting these SOBs out again. It is insane!

katherine scardino said...

The Court cited several reasons for their decision - some relating to the fact that this crime is susceptible to mistake more than others. But, all of you are correct - there is nothing worse than a child sex offender - I know that we are told that it is a sickness, but it is still hard to take.

katherine scardino said...

And, to answer the question about the cost of housing an inmate vs. the death penalty - I cannot at this moment recite the source of the statistics, but with the high cost of lawyers and the appellate process over 10 plus years, it is more expensive to execute them.