WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that executions are too severe a punishment for child rape, despite the ”years of long anguish“ for victims, in a ruling that restricts the death penalty to murder and crimes against the state.
The court's 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children younger than 12.
It spares the only people in the United States under sentence of death for that crime: two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.
The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other states that allowed executions for child rape.
However devastating the crime to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, ”the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child.“ His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.
There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years, a factor that weighed in Kennedy's decision.
Rape and other crimes ”may be as devastating in their harm, as here, but "in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,' they cannot be compared to murder in their "severity and irrevocability,'“ Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.