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April 5, 2006

A capital experiment spreading in the state laboratories

As detailed in this news account, the new fad of bills to make child molesters eligible for the death penalty has now spread to Tennessee from Oklahoma to South Carolina: "A House Subcommittee voted unanimously on Tuesday for legislation by State Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) to make child rape a capital offense punishable by death or life imprisonment."

Meanwhile, as this story details, new concerns are being raised in South Carolina as that state is on the path to becoming "the second state in the country to make some twice-convicted sex offenders eligible for the death penalty."  As the article explains:

Advocates against capital punishment say applying the ultimate penalty could lead to family members refusing to come forward and more rape victims being killed.  "It actually may create more death because the person facing the death penalty for this kind of offense might be inclined to say, 'No greater punishment incurred if I killed the victim,'" said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group critical of death penalty laws.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., often is at odds with Dieter's group.  But he said the death penalty shouldn't be imposed "simply to give the rapist an incentive not to kill the victim." It's difficult to take emotion out of this debate, "but that doesn't mean you should get carried away," he said.

Because the bulk of child rapes involve family members, the death penalty could make it more difficult for prosecutors because family members are less likely to come forward, Dieter said.

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If you're tracking this sort of thing, it is useful to know that Alaska's legislature just passed HCS CSSB218 which boosts sentences for all sex offenders substantially. The governor expects to sign the bill within the next day or so. For any sex offender with two prior sex felonies, the presumptive sentence is life. The presumptive life sentence applies to all levels of sex felony convictions. Alaska does not have capital punishment, so the death penalty was not an option. (I am the Senior Staff Associate at the Aalska Judicial Council, primarily responsible for supervising and reporting on justice system research)- Teri Carns

Posted by: Teri Carns | Apr 6, 2006 8:14:13 PM

Just to clarify - Alaska's statutes specify "99 years" for sentences; that is often referred to as "life." Teri Carns

Posted by: Teri Carns | Apr 6, 2006 8:18:22 PM

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