Oklahoma last week became the fifth state to allow the death penalty for sex crimes against children, a day after South Carolina enacted a similar law. The constitutionality of the new laws is unclear, says the New York Times. The Oklahoma measure makes people found guilty of rape and other sex crimes more than once against children younger than 14 eligible for the death penalty. The South Carolina law also requires multiple offenses, but against children under 11. Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said the new laws were largely symbolic, would impose disproportionate punishment, and were probably unconstitutional.
There has not been an execution for rape in the U.S. since 1964, and no one has been executed for a crime that did not involve a killing since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Before the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty in 1972, 16 states and the federal government authorized it for rape. Trey Walker, chief executive assistant to Attorney General Henry McMaster of South Carolina, said “there will be more and more” laws making sex crimes against children capital offenses. “This is something the Supreme Court takes into account,” Walker said, adding that he law would be found constitutional.