DEATH PENALTY FOR CHILD RAPISTS -- (House of Representatives - January 15, 2008)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. POE. Madam Speaker, soon our United States Supreme Court will hear the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana and decide whether capital punishment is permitted in rape cases where the victim is a child that is 12 or under.
Patrick Kennedy was sentenced in Louisiana to death after a jury convicted him of raping his own 8-year-old daughter. The facts show that he even tried to cover up the rape by cleaning up the evidence and then he blamed the rape on two neighborhood boys.
New Louisiana law allows the death sentence for raping a child that is under the age of 12, so Kennedy v. Louisiana asks the Supreme Court, among other things, to decide whether the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution, the cruel and unusual punishment clause, permits a State to punish the crime of rape of a child under the death penalty.
In 1977, the Supreme Court decided that a death sentence for rape of an adult woman was unconstitutional under a case called Coker v. Georgia. Coker really didn't discuss child rape, even though the victim in that case was 16 years of age. But since the Coker decision, State courts have interpreted it to limit death penalty crimes to certain murders. Those murders are what I call the murder-plus doctrine. There must not only be a homicide, but there must be some felony committed or some other unusual circumstance, like murder during a kidnapping, murder during a robbery, murder during a sexual assault, or murder of a police officer, and that is the doctrine that has been basically substantiated by the Supreme Court.
However, last year, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Coker v. Georgia doesn't apply in their particular case of capital punishment and rape cases when the victim is under 12 because it would still be murder-plus, murder plus the victim was under the age of 12; thus, it would fulfill the Supreme Court's requirements under the Constitution.
No one has been executed in the United States for a crime other than murder since 1964. Many States, including my home State of Texas, before that time allowed the death penalty for robbery by firearm, kidnapping, and sexual assault. But since those days, only murder plus some other felony is allowed under our Constitution.
There are approximately 3,300 inmates on death row in the United States, and only two of them face the death penalty for an event that did not involve a homicide as well as a felony, and those two are the two that are on Louisiana's death row. One is the petitioner in the upcoming Supreme Court case that the Supreme Court will decide very soon; the other is an individual by the name of Richard Davis, who was recently sentenced to death in Louisiana for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl.
Louisiana argues that the rape of a child is like no other crime. It also points out that the recent enactment of similar laws has occurred in other States such as Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, my home State. Louisiana argues that it is compelling evidence of a national trend toward treating child rape as a distinct type of crime from other types of crimes.
But the issue will be whether the Supreme Court will allow States to make this decision for themselves, or will the Supreme Court continue to mistakenly go down the path and rely on international law, as it did when it barred the death penalty for 17-year-olds in a case called Roper v. Simmons. In Texas, 17-year-olds are adults, but the Supreme Court said no longer can 17-year-olds be executed for any crime. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will quit using international law and decide whether it is constitutional or not to execute someone for raping a child under the age of 12 based on American jurisprudence and our Constitution.
Madam Speaker, a death sentence fits the crime of child rape because a child rape victim suffers for the rest of their natural lives. Madam Speaker,
before I came to Congress, I was a judge for 22 years in Texas, and before that I was a prosecutor.
Many years ago, when I prosecuted cases, I prosecuted an individual who raped a 9-year-old. When her mother testified on the witness stand, she would not refer to the crime as rape or as sexual assault. She referred to that crime as a fate worse than death. And when she explained to the jury what that meant, she was saying that being sexually assaulted as a child is a fate worse than death. Hopefully our Supreme Court will not require a child victim to be murdered before the Supreme Court will allow the death penalty for the perpetrator, because it is, as this lady has testified many years ago, a fate worse than death. When a person commits a crime of sexual assault, they try to steal the soul of a victim.
So, Madam Speaker, I support a State's right to decide for itself whether or not a child rapist should be executed or not, because children are more important than rapists.
And that's just the way it is.