The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday issued overturned laws that allow defendants convicted of sexually assaulting children to be executed, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in the majority of a 5-4 decision that “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” The decision, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, will lead to resentencing of defendant Patrick Kennedy, who was convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl.
An editorial in today’s USA Today says the court is right to continuing narrowing the death penalty, especially due to the inequality of its application and the chances of executing an innocent person.
When the court brought back the death penalty 32 years ago, it set a standard that executions be administered evenhandedly.
Reality has turned out otherwise. The odds of receiving a death sentence are three or four times greater when the victim is white than if the victim is a minority. Defendants sometimes lack competent legal representation. Evidence can be flawed.
Worst of all is the potential for a mistaken execution. DNA testing has exonerated 16 inmates who served time on death row, according to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that handles cases in which post-conviction DNA testing can prove innocence. Such proof, of course, is of no use to a prisoner who has been executed.
Read the full editorial here
. (USA Today, 06/26/08)
The National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Kennedy v. Louisiana, arguing that cases with impressionable witnesses – like young children – could have a higher rate of wrongful conviction.
Read more about the case, and download NACDL’s brief, here