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March 22, 2008

Show me support for capital child rape laws

As detailed in this official press release, "Gov. Matt Blunt and members of the Missouri General Assembly filed a brief with the U.S Supreme Court today in support of a Louisiana law allowing the death penalty as an appropriate form of punishment for an individual convicted of child rape." Here are more specifics from the release:

“Violent sex offenses against children are unspeakable crimes, crimes so horrific that they defy comprehension and demand harsh punishment,” Gov. Blunt said. “Crimes like these deserve the most serious punishment we can possibly deliver. I strongly support legislation allowing the death penalty for convicted child rapists. As we seek legislation to allow this punishment in Missouri, we have filed a legal brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Louisiana in their fight to better protect innocent children from deviant sexual predators.”

Gov. Blunt and members of the Missouri General Assembly filed an amici curiae, or “friends of the court” brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify previous rulings that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for child rapists. The brief also argues that the court should not preclude a national debate on this issue and allow states to form a consensus.

This story about the filing includes this link to the amicus brief.

March 22, 2008 at 07:39 PM | Permalink


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I haven't had time to post about all the great recent posts concerning Louisiana v. Kennedy. Sentencing Law Policy has three interesting posts:Show me support for capital child rape laws (concerning the MO. amicus brief)Is the editorial board of the [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 27, 2008 9:30:55 PM


I am enraged by this law! My daughter is the victim of child rape and she doesn't want her abuser to be put to death. This isn't going to make the child feel better, but maybe guilty and responsible for a man's death. The rapist is going to feel like he may as well go ahead and kill the child if he is going to die for what he's done. This law is senseless and only fuels the public paranoia and anger. It does not help the victims at all. Why not use the money to pay counselors to help offenders rehabilitate? These kids won't be victims forever, and abuse may be a horrible thing, but we can heal with time and live a normal life if the right counseling is provided. This bill gets absolutely no support from me!

Posted by: Christina | Mar 24, 2008 7:26:52 PM

I don't think the death penalty is much on the mind of criminals, actually. It's less a matter of them weighing incentives and disincentives while making a rational decision, than of unwillingness or inability to control impulses. So I'm willing to stipulate that the DP is not, on balance, much of a deterrent. It may even cause some criminals to commit murder as Christina suggests above (although, if a criminal was that rational, wouldn't he kill anyway to eliminate the witness?) Criminals just aren't entirely rational actors. Burglars think they're getting something for nothing, while they're embarking on a risky career path that will inevitably lead to long sojourns in prison.

Child sexual abusers are perhaps the least rational of all the irrational band we call criminals. To the extent that the psychology of these cretins is understood, there seems to be something wrong with their hard wiring. They have, you could say, an impulse to offend, and that they come to our attention as rapists shows that they cannot or will not control that impulse. There's no effective therapy and a child sex abuser will continue until old age, death, or the law overtakes him and permanently removes him from the scene.

Yet, any criminal sentenced to "life" will some day be released. And most child rapists are sentenced to laughably short sentences. (One Massachusetts judge, Maria Lopez, sentenced the rapist to house arrest in the same building as his victim; she's not materially different in judicial views and temperament from the rest of her state's jurists).

The Supreme Court has been so particular with the death penalty recently that I expect it will not allow death sentences against non-murderers to stand (for example, consider its rulings in the juvenile and "retardation" cases -- 65 is pretty close to the median IQ in prison, but it gets you off the murder hook in the USA now). My sense is that the pendulum in the legal world and elite opinion generally is swinging against the DP, hurried along by things like the Cook County death row fiasco.

The general public remains strongly pro-DP. But the general public also prefers, especially in high-crime urban areas, liberal politicians who are soft on crime. The same newspapers that endorse the politicians that appoint the judges write "gotcha!" stories when, inevitably, some judge's ill-advised generosity towards some truculent skell leads to a new round of murders. This cognitive dissonance of the media and the public is why that same public saddles judges with sentencing guidelines and strips them of discretion. This is great from the media point of view, as they get to write many more stories about ridiculously inappropriate, but mandatory, sentences. And it just convinces Joe Sixpack that the whole court thing is a swindle.

In a perfect world we'd pick people with good judgment to be judges, and then leave them to use their judgment -- and we'd understand when, inevitably, some judgments were wrong or had dreadful unintended consequences. When you build a system that rests on people, it can't be a perfect matter of engineering. It will have problems. And all the mechanisms we apply to try to bring the problem level to zero just add complexity and new failure modes to the system. Remember, the sentence-guideline promoters thought they were fixing a problem, and in a way they were.

Posted by: Kevin O'Brien | Mar 24, 2008 11:12:36 PM

James City County Board of Education VS. The Us Department of Education/ Reckless Endangerment.

Posted by: Tyshika Jones | Jun 9, 2009 3:55:55 PM

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