Child Rape and the Death Penalty

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What Is Child Rape?

Child rape is a type of statutory rape, although child rape specifically is sexual intercourse with a minor who is below the age of consent.  Different states call statutory rape by different names. It can be termed sexual assault, sexual misconduct with a minor, sexual imposition, etc.  As the child’s age gets younger, state law tends to call it “child molestation,” “aggravated indecent liberties with a child,” “carnal knowledge of a juvenile,” etc.,

How Is Child Rape Tried?

The law calls child rape, “statutory rape,” which means sexual intercourse with a person under “the age of consent” (varying by state from 14-18).  Statutes assume that the child did not have enough maturity, as a matter of law, to be able to consent.  Child rape is called a “strict liability” crime, meaning whether the rapist meant to do it or made a mistake in doing it does not matter – the mere act by itself constitutes the crime.

Child rape is a felony, meaning prison time of more than one year can be imposed.  Penalties vary by state, the age of the victim, the age of the rapist, and aggravating factors such as assault and other violence.  If the parties are consenting minors close in age, the crime can be reduced to a misdemeanor.  Prison terms range from 1 year to life, although a sentence around ten to thirty years is typical. A variety of factors influence the prison term: age of the defendant, age of the victim, the defendant’s criminal record, the defendant’s relation to the victim, etc.

Can The Death Penalty Be Imposed For Child Rape?

In a recent Supreme Court decision, Kennedy v. Louisiana, it was ruled that the death penalty could not be imposed on a child rapist. The suspect was accused of raping his 8-year old stepdaughter, injuring her in the process, and calling a professional carpet cleaner to clean up the blood. Louisiana law, along with 6 other states, authorizes the death penalty for anyone convicted of raping a child under 12.

Why Did The Supreme Court Prohibit The Death Penalty For Child Rape?

However, the 8th Amendment prohibits any punishment that is excessively “cruel and unusual,” and which is “grossly disproportionate” to the crime. The Supreme Court held that the death penalty could not be applied to non-homicidal crimes. Here, child rape was said to be "devastating” in its harm, but could not compare to the “severity and irrevocability” of cold-blooded murder. However, some lawmakers argue that forcible child rape is worse than murder – the child carries those horrifying memories with her for the rest of her life, whereas victims of murder are presumably at peace.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Child rape is a serious crime and can have serious consequences for both the victim and the defendant. If you think a child has been raped, report it to the police immediately. If you have been accused of child rape, you should consult a criminal defense attorney right away. 

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Last Modified: 11-21-2012 11:26 AM PST

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