Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty for Child Rape
New York Times' reporter David Stout covered the Supreme Court ruling in a death penalty case argued by Jeffrey Fisher:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Wednesday that sentencing someone to death for raping a child is unconstitutional, assuming that the victim is not killed.
“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
The court overturned a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which had held that child rape is unique in the harm it inflicts not just upon the victim but on society and that, short of first-degree murder, no crime is more deserving of the death penalty.
Justice Kennedy, while in no way minimizing the heinous nature of child rape, wrote that executing someone for that crime, assuming that the victim was not killed, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which draws its meaning from “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
The case decided on Wednesday, Kennedy v. Louisiana, No. 07-343, does not overturn the defendant’s conviction. Rather, it returns the case to the Louisiana courts for resentencing. In practical terms, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Davis will both be resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the Capital Appeals Project, which represents indigent death row defendants in Louisiana.
Mr. Kennedy’s lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, argued before the justices that it was “at odds with national values” for the state to execute his client, who had never committed such a crime before.