Kennedy v. Louisiana Case Brief

Facts of the case

A Louisiana court found Patrick Kennedy guilty of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter. Louisiana law allows the district attorney to seek the death penalty for defendants found guilty of raping children under the age of twelve. The prosecutor sought, and the jury awarded, such a sentence Kennedy appealed.The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of the death sentence, noting that although the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down capital punishment for rape of an adult woman in Coker v. Georgia , that ruling did not apply when the victim was a child. Rather the Louisiana high court applied a balancing test set out by the Court in Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons , first examining whether there is a national consensus on the punishment and then considering whether the court would find the punishment excessive. In this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court felt that the adoption of similar laws in five other states, coupled with the unique vulnerability of children, justified imposing the death penalty.In seeking certiorari, Kennedy argued that five states do not constitute a national consensusfor the purposes of Eighth Amendment analysis, that Coker v. Georgia should apply to all rapes regardless of the age of the victim, and that the law was unfair in its application, singling out black child rapists for death at a significantly higher rate than whites.


The Court, held that U.S. Const. amend. VIII barred respondent, the State of Louisiana, from imposing the death penalty on petitioner. Based both on consensus and its own independent judgment, the Court held that a death sentence for one who raped but did not kill a child, and who did not intend to assist another in killing the child, was unconstitutional under U.S. Const. amends. VIII and XIV. After reviewing the history of the death penalty for the crime of child rape, current state statutes and new enactments, and the number of executions since 1964, the Court concluded that there was a national consensus against capital punishment for the crime of child rape. The Court also concluded in its independent judgment that the death penalty was not a proportional punishment for the crime of child rape. The Court found that its decision was consistent with the justifications offered for the death penalty: retribution and deterrence.

  • Advocates: R. Ted Cruz for Texas, et al., as amici curiae, in support of the Respondent Juliet L. Clark on behalf of the Respondent Jeffrey L. Fisher on behalf of the Petitioner
  • Petitioner: Patrick Kennedy
  • Respondent: State of Louisiana
  • DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 554 US 407 (2008)
Granted: Jan 4, 2008
Argued: Apr 16, 2008
Decided: Jun 25, 2008
Kennedy v. Louisiana Case Brief