04/03/2008 - On April 16, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of a Louisiana statute that allows for the death penalty in cases involving child rape. More specifically, the court will determine whether the law violates the U.S Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”
The case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, is the second major death penalty case to be heard by the high court this year, following arguments in January concerning the constitutionality of the most common method of lethal injection. (See Lethal Injection on Trial: An Analysis of the Arguments Before the Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees.) Paul Butler, a professor at The George Washington University Law School and an expert on criminal law, spoke with the Pew Forum about this newest case and its possible outcomes and implications.
Paul Butler, Professor, The George Washington University Law School
David Masci, Senior Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Question & Answer:
So far, Louisiana is the only state to sentence someone to death for child rape. But five other states, including Texas and Georgia, have passed similar statutes in recent years. What's behind this trend?
It's a political decision - a decision by some states to get especially tough on crime and to separate out another category of people, in addition to murderers, who they think are especially depraved criminals deserving of the most severe punishment. And so rapists, and especially child rapists, are kind of the obvious category.
You might also think of people who engage in terrorism but don't actually commit acts of homicide as falling in this category. And there are some federal laws that would allow the death penalty in such cases, although no one has yet been executed for a terrorist act that didn't lead to a death. So this is an especially ripe category for the Supreme Court to consider - whether the death penalty is constitutional for crimes other than murder.
Read the complete transcript The Supreme Court Considers Child Rape and Capital Punishment on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.