Landmark Cases – Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment: Kennedy vs. Louisiana (2008)

After the conviction for the crime of aggravated rape of his then-8 year old stepdaughter, Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death under a statute in the state of Louisiana that authorized capital punishment for the rape cases of children below 12 years old(Patrick Kennedy, Petitioner v. Louisiana, 2008).In this case, the Supreme Court decided that in all cases that do not involve murder or crimes against the state such as treason, the death penalty is unconstitutional.The Court arrived at the conclusion that a death penalty in Kennedy’s case would constitute cruel and unusual punishment by a vote of 5-4, citing that only within the limits of civilized standards should punishments be exercised(Patrick Kennedy, Petitioner v. Louisiana, 2008). To limit the application of the death penalty, the United States Supreme Court relied on the provisions of the Eighth Amendment that prohibits unusual and cruel punishment. As per the Supreme Court’s decision, the State of Louisiana was barred from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child provided the crime’s outcome was not death and the intention of the crime was not the death of the victim, in line with the provisions of the Eighth Amendment. To support its decision as regards the crime of child rape, the Court made note of the national consensus against capital punishment by reviewing the history of the capital punishment in cases of child rape..

The distinction in this case lay between non-homicide crimes and intentional first-degree murder, where the irrevocability and severity of murder is not comparable to non-homicide crimes, despite the devastating effects of the harm caused in terms of injury and moral depravity to both the victim and the public(Patrick Kennedy, Petitioner v. Louisiana, 2008). Retribution and Deterrence, which were cited as the justification for the death penalty could still be achieved by another sentence that did not amount to the death penalty, which was found to be disproportionate to the crime of child rape.


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