Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Limits of the Death Penalty

In recent decades, the Supreme Court has looked for ways to limit the death penalty, but it hears arguments today in a case that could reverse that trend — and extend capital punishment to additional crimes. The court should stand by its past rulings that murder is the only crime committed by one person against another that can be punished by death.


The states and the federal government have already expanded eligibility for a death sentence, but have never tested the constitutionality of these statutes. That is, until Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for a raping an 8 year old. He and one other Louisiana inmate are the only individuals currently on death row for a non-capital crime.

Several arguments have been presented against expanding eligibility for a death sentence. In addition to the arguments in the NY Times opinion, the efficacy of this particular policy has been questions. By imposing a death sentence for child rape, will perpetrators go ahead a kill their victims in order to increase the odds of escaping detection because the punishment will be the same for the murder as for the rape?

This argument, as well as concerns over the general expansion of the death penalty, may have contributed to the failure of a similar death penalty expansion bill in Colorado.

As reprehensible as raping a child is, the NY Times is correct in calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to resist the temptation to abandon established precedent. Public support for the death penalty is declining. Most of the world has abandoned this policy. States should be enacting responsible crime control policies, not adding to an already troubled policy that may make matters worse.

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