The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh the constitutionality of the death penalty for child rape next week, says USA Today. The dispute marks the first time since 1977 that the justices will consider whether rape can be punished by death. The justices said no three decades ago in the case of a 16-year-old married woman whom the court referred to as an adult.
Several states have signaled that if the court permits the death penalty for child rape in Louisiana, they may try to enact such laws. Five states clearly allow capital punishment for raping young children. Social workers warn that if the court sanctions the penalty for child rape, it could further discourage reporting of the crime because in the majority of child sexual assaults, the attacker is a relative or friend of the victim. The dispute the justices will hear arises as prosecutors are obtaining significantly fewer death sentences annually than a decade ago. A de facto moratorium on capital punishment is in place while the high court considers a separate dispute over lethal injection. Opposing parties in the pending rape case from Louisiana argue that public opinion is on their side. The justices’ view of societal trends will matter because the court looks for evidence of a national consensus when deciding whether a sentence violates notions of decency embodied in the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.