Thursday, October 21, 2010
Death Penalty for Child Molesters?
There has been a fierce battle and debate over the issue of “Cruel punishment” for child molesters. Both sides arguing back and forth, if they should have the same laws applied to them as a murderer, or the death penalty is too harsh of a punishment.
South Carolina's governor signed a similar law, allowing the death penalty for offenders convicted twice of raping children younger than 11.
Louisiana, Florida and also have laws allowing the death penalty for certain sex crimes. Montana
Defense attorneys and death penalty experts said the laws defy recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have scaled back the death penalty's application. Barbara Bergman, president of the Washington-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Supreme Court decisions have made it clear that the death penalty is reserved for someone who has taken another life.
"I'm not saying that raping a child is not a horrible crime, but no one has died," said Bergman, who was part of the defense team that avoided the death penalty for
bombing conspirator Terry Nichols following his 2004 conviction on 161 murder counts. Oklahoma City
(Blogs note: What an absolute crazy quote! Shame on you Miss Bergman!)
David Brook, a law professor at
Washington and Lee University in , said the measure might actually put a child rape victim's life at risk. "The last message you want to give an offender who has the life of a child in his hands is you might as well kill the child because he's already got the death penalty," said Brook, who runs the Virginia Capital Case Clearing House, which assists lawyers in death penalty cases. "This is a very stupid message." Lexington, Va.
No one convicted of a sex offense has been executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment 30 years ago, though one inmate is on death row in
following his 2003 conviction for raping an 8-year-old girl. Louisiana
The following is an article written in TIME magazine, debating the pros and cons.
In the state that is the nation's undisputed death penalty leader,
, you might think there is no such thing as a punishment considered too harsh. But as legislators there consider joining the small but growing number of states making certain convicted pedophiles eligible for the death penalty, a surprisingly vocal group of critics has emerged, arguing that the measure is shortsighted, counterproductive and probably unconstitutional. Texas
"There's tough. And then there's Texas tough," Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared at his January inauguration as he pledged to press for mandatory 25-year sentences and a two-strikes death-penalty provision for convicted child predators. The proposal is a more extreme version of the so-called " Jessica's Law " passed by the
legislature in the wake of the February 2005 rape and murder of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford. That landmark statute imposed mandatory 25-year prison terms and life electronic monitoring for sex offenders, and since its passage in May 2005 42 states and Congress have implemented or are considering their own very similar laws. Florida
Dewhurst's stance made headlines and has won him kudos from national backers of Jessica's Law such as Fox News's Bill O'Reilly and John Walsh, producer of
's Most Wanted. But it also sparked the formation of an unexpected coalition of opponents, featuring some of the state's toughest prosecutors as well as victims' rights groups, both of whom worry that the measure could backfire and result in fewer convictions. America
"We saw the tsunami wave coming to
," said Shannon Edmonds, state lobbyist for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Last year, Texas adopted the death penalty for the second offense of raping a child under age 11. South Carolina followed, passing Jessica's Law with a death penalty provision for raping a child under age 14. Oklahoma already had some of the toughest child predator laws on the books with its two-strikes rule that sends child predators to jail for life. But the push for even harsher punishment was coming from the state leadership, rather than from the grass roots, as tightening of criminal laws often does. "Prosecutors will tell you these are the most difficult cases to get a guilty verdict on," Texas said. "Prosecutors lose more of these cases than any other." Edmonds
The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault also voiced its concerns about "unintended consequences" of Jessica's Laws. The mandatory sentences can backfire, said TAASA spokeswoman Karen Amacher, as prosecutors lose the flexibility to seek lesser sentences in cases where a jury trial may prove too taxing for a child witness, or a jury or judge may not feel a 25-year sentence is warranted. Since an estimated 80% of child sexual assaults are committed by family members, groups like Amacher's are concerned that mandatory sentence laws, not to mention the death penalty, might dissuade certain people from reporting abuse to authorities. "With sex offenders we want to say let's lock them up and throw away the key — these folks are just awful, after all — but it's just not realistic," Amacher said.
Even avowed supporters of the death penalty in murder cases think the
proposal would be a bad idea. "If you give the same sentence for molesting a little girl as for molesting and killing a little girl, it seems an incentive to go ahead and kill her," said Michael Rushford, head of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif. Texas
Legal scholars from both sides of the political spectrum have warned
legislators the death penalty for repeat sex offenders would likely be declared unconstitutional. In 1977 the Supreme Court ruled in Coker vs. Texas that the death penalty in rape cases was cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, several states have retained old laws providing the death penalty for rape of minors — including Georgia Florida, Montana and . Only one state, Louisiana , currently has someone on death row charged with raping a child: Patrick O. Kennedy, who faces the death penalty after being convicted in 2003 of raping an eight-year-old. His case is being appealed and could make its way to the Supreme Court, according to Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center. Louisiana
Even so, prosecutors aren't willing to sit and wait for the highest court in the land to sort it all out. Instead, district attorneys around the state told the legislature that what they really needed were more tools to win cases, not limits on their choices. Working in committee, prosecutors and victims' rights groups managed to include evidence rule changes that would give them more flexibility in presenting child witnesses. The 25-year mandatory-minimum requirement was fine-tuned to apply only to egregious cases such as those involving children under the age of 6 or the use of a deadly weapon. But while it is optional in the bill adopted by the
senate, the death penalty remains mandatory for a second offense in the House version. With overwhelming support in both houses for at least a death penalty option, it is likely some kind of capital punishment provision will survive in the final bill that is passed. Texas
Still, if the mandatory death penalty provision for a second offense survives in the
bill, it would be 25 years before anyone could face that punishment. They would have to be found guilty of the first offense under the new law initially and serve the mandatory 25 years. If the Senate version with the optional death penalty survives, the politicians will surely trumpet it, but it is unlikely prosecutors would use that new tool, given the time and resources that would have to be poured into a case that would almost certainly be appealed. "I think prosecutors would wait for guidance from the Supreme Court first," Texas said. Edmonds
Just two weeks before the Senate passed its version of Jessica's Law, two men freed on DNA testing after serving 27 years in prison between them for adult sexual assault visited the state capitol. The lone senator to vote against the bill reminded his colleagues of their visit. "At some point we have to decide where do we draw the line on something that's politically right but morally wrong," State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, said as he cast his vote. "I'm for the death penalty, but I think it would be nice if we had a system where we got the right one."
I would like to get feedback from my readers. Please write me your take on it, and explain why you think it’s pro or con. I agree with the death penalty for child Rapist. But unlike some who say that you have to be a repeat offender, i believe a "First timer" should be under the law as well.