Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Idea Whose Time Has Come...

Calls for harsher sentences for child-sex crimes, including the death penalty, are growing throughout the country.

Oklahoma's governor, Brad Henry, a Democrat, signed a bill last month that would allow jurors to sentence to death repeat sex offenders for crimes against children younger than 14. One day earlier, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, signed a similar bill that would allow capital punishment for repeat offenders guilty of sex crimes against children younger than 11.

Currently, Louisiana has the only death-row inmate convicted of a child rape that did not result in murder. Patrick Kennedy, convicted in 2003 of raping an 8-year-old girl, was sentenced under a 1995 law that allows the death penalty for the rape of a child younger than 12. His case is on appeal.

Richard Allen Davis (pictured above) remains on death row in California for his 1996 conviction for first-degree murder and four special circumstances (robbery, burglary, kidnapping and a lewd act on a child) of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. While many opponents of this law claim it might create many more Richard Allen Davis', proponents argue that with the extremely high recidivism rate and the often graduating nature of such criminals (each attack becoming more violent) that the very nature of this crime tends toward that end, so better to mete out a final punishment early, rather than too late.

In 1996, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state's death-penalty law for child rapists. In 1977, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a person convicted of raping a woman cannot be sentenced to death because the punishment is out of proportion with the crime. Of course that Supreme Court Decision did not address child molestation, a crime most people see as one of the most egregious of all violent crimes.

In recent months, similar ideas have been pushed by lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and even Minnesota, which doesn't have the death penalty.

With Florida's Jessica's Law (mandatory sentencing for child molesters) gaining support throughout the country, is Capital Punishment for child molesters an idea whose time has come?

Only time will tell.

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