26 June 2008

Another Supreme Court Opinion--No Death Penalty for Child Rapists

In another controversial decision, the Court ruled 5-4 that Louisiana's law treating child rape as a capital crime is unconstitutional. Opinion author and swing voter Anthony Kennedy wrote that:
"the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,"
I won't comment on the decision itself until I read the opinions, but I will confess that my gut reaction is that child rape is perhaps the most jusifiable case for the death penalty. If you've ever met someone who was raped as a child, you'll know that it's a life sentence for the victim. Every person I've known who was raped as a kid (and I've known enough to scare the shit out of me as the father of three girls) was completely screwed up--functional, but only just barely, and apt to lose it completely at any time. I wonder if the majority recognized the severity of the crime.

And while this isn't a good legal argument for the death penalty, I don't believe child molesters can change. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense for an adult male of any age to be attracted to a sexually mature female of any post-pubescent age. That doesn't justify rape, but the point is that a man who rapes a 13 year old is a criminal, but not necessarily much further off the deep end psychologically than a man who rapes a 21 year old. Sexual attraction to a pre-pubescent, however, provides no selective advantage, so evolutionary theory doesn't explain it--these people are just wired wrong, in a way that we can't fix. And, giving the Court's majority the benefit of the doubt that execution is too severe, there's been a tendency in the U.S. to give these people minimal sentences--a three month sentence for child molestation is not unknown, and sentences of 1-3 years are not rare.

Since I generally oppose the death penalty--not on moral, but purely pragmatic grounds, as we do make mistakes, and they're non-correctable--perhaps we can all just compromise on locking up these perpetrators for life without possiblity of parole? And can somebody explain why so many state legislatures haven't done that yet? Whose re-election hopes rest on keeping child molesters out of prison?

1 comment:

James K said...

The best reason I can think of for making murder punishable by death and not child rape is that you want to give these offenders a reason not to kill their victims.

Having said that I like the idea of life with no parole for child rape. Think of it as death by natural causes.