Thursday, June 26, 2008

"She was bleeding profusely from the vaginal area"

If I were a legislator, I am not sure whether I would vote for the death penalty for any crime. There are legitimate reasons to believe that, on balance, life imprisonment in solitary confinement just might be sufficient: the expense and interminable appeals that death penalty cases inevitably generate; the possibility of misidentification.

But the idea that the death penalty is morally inappropriate for certain crimes is not merely ludicrous; it is offensive. Many others will spill volumes of ink over the Supremes' latest death penalty decision. I will let two excerpts speak for themselves. The first, from the majority opinion, is simply a sanitized version of the facts. The second is the beginning of Justice Alito's dissent:

The majority:
When police arrived at [defendant's] home between 9:20 and 9:30 a.m., they found L. H. [defendant's eight year old step daughter] on her bed, wearing a T-shirt and wrapped in a bloody blanket. She was bleeding profusely from the vaginal area. . . . L. H. was transported to the Children’s Hospital. An expert in pediatric forensic medicine testified that L. H.’s injuries were the most severe he had seen from a sexual assault in his four years of practice. A laceration to the left wall of the vagina had separated her cervix from the back of her vagina, causing her rectum to protrude into the vaginal structure. Her entire perineum was torn from the posterior fourchette to the anus. The injuries required emergency surgery.

The dissent:
The Court today holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of raping a child. This is so, according to the Court, no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be. The Court provides two reasons for this sweeping conclusion: First, the Court claims to have identified “a national consensus” that the death penalty is never acceptable for the rape of a child; second, the Court concludes, based on its “independent judgment,” that imposing the death penalty for child rape is inconsistent with “ ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.’ ” Ante, at 8, 15, 16 (citation omitted). Because neither of these justifications is sound, I respectfully dissent.

A person who believes that death is a morally unjustified response to such depravity has truly lost his humanity.


  1. Anonymous12:29 PM

    1) Imposing the death penalty for child rapists would only give them incentive to murder the child after a rape so as not to leave a witness behind since the penalty, if caught, would be the same.
    2) There are many innocent prisoners now, as the Innocence Project has proven. If innocent people can be convicted and imprisoned for decades, we do not want to add the execution of innocents to the incidents of injustice.
    The Supreme Court made the right decision.

  2. These are policy arguments appropriately addressed to the state legislatures, not to be decided by the Supreme Court pretending they are constitutional mandates.


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