Death Penalty Essay
In the Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana, Patrick Kennedy was convicted by the state for aggravated rape against his 8 year old stepdaughter. Kennedy tried to appeal this conviction under the claim that his constitutional rights were violated. Kennedy presented the case Coker v. Georgia to defend his claim which held that a person convicted of raping an adult woman could not be given the death sentence if the person’s death was not an intended result of the rape. Kennedy’s assertion is that the death penalty should not be given to him for this rape because it is a violation of his eight amendment right. However after a jury trial he was convicted of the crime and was given the death sentence. However the Supreme Court held that since the rape did not result in death the state of Louisiana made an unconstitutional decision when sentencing Kennedy to death.
In the Supreme Court case Baze v. Rees, Ralph Baze and another man were arrested and convicted for murder. A Kentucky state court sentenced both men to the death penalty however they appealed the conviction. The reason for the appeal was based on the eighth amendment in the constitution as the men contested lethal injection was a violation of this right. The eighth amendment asserts that there should be a ban on cruel and unusual punishments and the defendant asserted that lethal injection fell under these specifications. The bases for these interjections were that the lethal injection would cause the death to be similar to torture as the process would be a long one. The Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection was unconstitutional (Deathpenalty.procon.org).
Context of the Case
In the first case the brutal rape of an 8 year old girl is the reason that the offender was sentenced to death by the state. Capital punishment which is also referred to as the death penalty is most often given to criminals who are sentenced for crimes like “homicide, murder, aggravated murder, pre meditated murder, felony murder etc.” however there are some states that will enforce this type of punishment for other crimes. These crimes include capital drug trafficking and sexual battery, aircraft hijacking, treason, drug crimes and burglary as well as more just depending on the state. In this case the brutal rape of an 8 year old girl was a horrifying crime for the family and community and therefore the state and jury felt that the death penalty was appropriate. However the Supreme Court was in charge of considering all of the rights including the criminals and the constitution has upheld that the death sentence is not appropriate for sexual assault that did not result in the death of the girl.
In the second case the two men convicted of murder did not contest the fact that they were guilty of the crimes they were sentenced for, instead they were arguing the severity of the sentence that they were given. The argument was that lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment. When dealing with capital punishment this type of sentence can cause some controversy as lethal injection is when a person is when a person is given a large dose of drugs leading to their demise. The defendant in this case presented that this type of punishment was a violation of his rights because dying this way would inflict a long and extreme amount of duress and the Supreme Court had to consider if lethal injection was in fact inhumane. As a result the capital punishment sentence in this case was found to be a violation of the constitution.
Constitutional Questions before the court
The eighth amendment is used most often in cases that refer to the death penalty because it prevents cruel and unusual punishment of criminals. Capital punishment is the most extreme form of punishment that is given to the most dangerous criminals when reforming is not a viable option. With many studies showing that the death penalty does not result in the deterrence of crimes like homicide there are researchers and citizens that are wondering if it is an acceptable or inhumane form of punishment (Law.cornell.edu). There are four different types of capital punishment and depending on the state a person lives in will depend on the type they will be sentenced for. In the first case involving the rape of an eight year old girl there would be two questions presented to the court. The first would be does the crime constitute a sentence of capital punishment? In this case the state court did uphold that the death sentence was appropriate due to the nature of the crime and extremely brutal circumstances. However the defendant was able to gain the decision of the Supreme Court because in cases involving rape or sexual assault the offender has to have been attempting to murder the person or been brutal enough to have caused the persons untimely death. In this case this was not what happened. Although the rape was brutal and devastating death was not the outcome or purpose.
In the second case the defendants were guilty of murder and in most instances there would be no question about the sentence they would receive for their crime. However lethal injection is a form of the death sentence that requires the person be drugged until there body expires and the defendant was able to get the Supreme Court to recognize how this type of death could be extremely cruel. It is necessary for the punishment to fit the crime and in this case the question would be if a person deserves to suffer prolonged when the constitution forbids this type of punishment. The Supreme Court found in this case that lethal injection was unconstitutional and a violation of the eighth amendment rights of the defendant.
Evaluating the Implications on Criminal Law
The death penalty has long been a topic of adversity in the criminal justice field. People who are for the death penalty feel that it is the answer for criminals who are guilty of terrible crimes. The idea is that some crimes cannot be forgiven and some criminals are not capable of rehabilitation. These particular criminals are the ones who are sentenced to death. In many instances this is to attempt to deter others from becoming involved in similar criminal acts and to ensure that violent and unrepairable people are never in society again. However opposing views see the death sentence as cruel and in many studies it has not been shown to actually deter crime. When an innocent person is sentenced to death there is no way to undo this when it is discovered that they are innocent. Some also argue that the death penalty is expensive and a waste of tax money. In these cases the question is if the death penalty is a violation of constitutional rights and freedoms. The problem with this is that all forms of capital punishment could be presented as cruel and unusual forms of punishment and there are cases that will argue it does not apply to them. The Supreme Court is tasked with upholding the laws and the constitutional rights and therefor in the cases involving capital punishment this can cause quite the contradiction. The crimes that both of these criminals were found to have committed qualify to society as good reasons to sentence a person to the death penalty. They are murder and a brutal rape which many people see as unforgivable crimes that a person cannot rehabilitate from. However the laws currently in place are in the favor of both of the cases because lethal injection can be considered a cruel form of punishment, and rape is not murder therefor even the nature of the rape is not something that would make the crime punishable by death in today’s society.
Deathpenalty.procon.org,. 'Major Death Penalty Cases In The US Supreme Court - Death Penalty - Procon.Org'. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Law.cornell.edu,. 'Eighth Amendment | Constitution | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute'. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.