I’ve argued for years that the death penalty should be expanded to include some of the more heinous child molesters. Right now, the United States Supreme Court is hearing a case that deals with the very same issue.
Patrick Kennedy was convicted in 1998 of raping his 8 year old step-daughter so severely that she required surgery afterwards. Under Louisiana law, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the death penalty. His lawyers have appealed the sentence as a violation of the U.S. Constitution 8th amendment which bans “cruel and unusual punishment.” The full text of the 8th amendment is: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Kennedy’s argument simply doesn’t hold water for at least one very obvious reason. The Supreme Court has already ruled, numerous times, that the death penalty by lethal injection DOES NOT constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” in cases where the victim was murdered. Why would the penalty suddenly become “cruel and unusual” when the victim is a raped child, instead of a murdered child?
The court ruled in 1977 that the rape of an adult was not a severe enough crime to warrant the death penalty, but the scenario of child rape has never been tried at the Supreme Court level. Furthermore, it’s been 44 years since anyone in America has been executed for a crime other than murder. So, this case potentially has a lot riding on it. Oddly enough, Kennedy has found some unlikely allies to his plight.
Groups such as the National Association of Social Workers and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence have argued against the death penalty in such cases, saying that if a rapist knows he’s going to get executed then he is more likely to go ahead and murder the victim rather than letting them live. While that could be a genuine concern, it seems to miss one of the points of carrying out the death penalty in the first place, which is the issue of deterrence. In essence, what these groups are saying is “let’s be nice to the rapists, so they won’t kill us.” But what I’m suggesting is that we “execute the rapists so they CAN'T kill us….or even rape us for that matter.” The point is, we shouldn’t show leniency towards criminals based upon what they “might” do. We should hold them to the highest level of accountability for what they HAVE ALREADY DONE.
In all honesty, I’m not real sure how much thought a rapist is giving to his actions to begin with. If a man is willing to rape an 8 year old girl do you really think he wouldn’t consider murdering her as well? Let’s face it, rape…followed by murder….happens everyday. And often times it is carried out by someone who has already done such things in the past….and will do it again in the future if not stopped. And what’s the best way to stop them? Execute them….post-haste.
In a previous article, I gave a Biblical defense for capital punishment, so I won’t rehash it here (click here to read the article). But I will point out that, according to Scripture, some crimes are “worthy of death.” And if child rape isn’t one of those crimes, then what is? Sadly, but not surprisingly, the High Court seems to be divided on the issue. In oral arguments, Justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia, who are considered “conservative” have seemed to imply that such penalties should be legal. Liberal Justices, like Stephen Breyer, have argued the other way. Breyer made the particularly disturbing statement that “I am not a moralist, I am a judge.” In other words, Breyer won’t make a “moral judgment” upon a child rapist. My question is this: by favoring Kennedy’s side in this case, isn’t he making a moral judgment upon the executors? Isn’t he making a moral judgment upon the state of Louisiana? In fact, when it’s all said and done, aren’t all legal judgments really “moral” judgments?
I certainly understand Breyer’s point that a judge’s job is to uphold the written law rather than forcing personal morality upon the people. But our written law IS our morality, and it’s a judge’s job to protect it and see that it is upheld. And nothing in our written, moral law (i.e., Constitution) says anything about protecting child rapists from the just reward that they have earned by their abhorrent actions. And to be honest, it’s more than a little disturbing to hear a Supreme Court Justice who appears unwilling to at least concede that the raping of a child is an “immoral” act.
It will be interesting to see how this case ends up. I have every confidence that John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito will make the right decision. As for the other 5 Justices? Who knows what they will do. One of them refuses to be a “moralist.” Which means, in the end, he may decide to refuse to be an effective “Judge” as well. Five states have already passed laws allowing the death penalty for child rapists (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, and Montana ). Let’s hope our nation’s highest court allows them to carry out the punishment these child rapists so fully deserve. And then other states will begin to follow suit.