Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Liveblogging: House debating removing Jessica's Law of Death penalty provision

Rep. Dutton has introduced an amendment to HB 8 (Jessica's Law) that would remove the penalty of death for second offenses of sexual assault against a child. A motion has been made to table the amendment and will be voted on shortly.

One reason that the death penalty provision should be removed is that it could endanger some children. As we said in an earlier post,

"It is frightening to think that this death penalty provision may result in the death of a child who otherwise would not be killed, if the criminal thinks he has to murder the victim in order to eliminate the only witness to the crime. If the punishment for raping a child is the same as the punishment for raping and murdering a child, then a child may one day be murdered who otherwise would not be murdered because some nut is going to reason that he might as well get rid of the only witness since the punishment is the same anyhow".

Another reason to remove the death penalty provision is that, despite what Rep Riddle just misleadingly represented to the House in an exchange with Rep Terri Hodge, applying the death penalty in cases where a child is not murdered is probably unconstitutional. Riddle is misleadingly arguing that there is consensus in the legal community that her bill is constitutional and that she has been told by attorneys that it is, but UT law professor Rob Owen testified to the House Criminal Jurispridence Committee that the Supreme Court would most likely rule it unconstitutional. There is currently a case from Louisiana working its way up to the Supreme Court on this issue.

As we wrote in an earlier post:
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Coker v. Georgia that the death penalty for people who commit rape of an adult is unconstitutional, because the punishment is disproportionate to the crime. The Court has not ruled on whether they would also consider the death penalty for a person who rapes a child as disproportionate, but it is highly likely that it would. There has not been an execution in the United States for non-homicide crime since 1964. There are provisions for the death penalty for some crimes that do not involve murder, such as treason, but treason is eligible for the death penalty because the assumption is that treason can result in the deaths of people. For example, Robert Hanssen, who is the subject of the current movie "Breach" could have been given the death penalty for his treason, which caused the deaths of at least three people, who were executed by the KGB after Hanssen told the Russians that they were working for the U.S. Hanssen received a sentence of life in prison without parole, instead of the death penalty for which he was eligible, because he cooperated with prosecutors.

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