Kennedy v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: Patrick Kennedy
RESPONDENT: State of Louisiana
LOCATION: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay

DOCKET NO.: 07-343
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Louisiana Supreme Court

CITATION: 554 US 407 (2008)
GRANTED: Jan 04, 2008
ARGUED: Apr 16, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2008

Juliet L. Clark - on behalf of the Respondent
Jeffrey L. Fisher - on behalf of the Petitioner
R. Ted Cruz - for Texas, et al., as amici curiae, in support of the Respondent

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 consensus" for 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.


Do states violate the Eight Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment by imposing the death sentence for the crime of child rape?

Media for Kennedy v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 2008 in Kennedy v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 2008 in Kennedy v. Louisiana

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Kennedy has the opinion of the court in case 07-343, Kennedy versus Louisiana.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

In this case, the petitioner was convicted by a Louisiana jury of raping his stepdaughter.

She was eight years old at the time of the crime.

In addition to mental anguish, she sustained serious physical injuries, injuries that required emergency surgery.

These are described in detail in the opinion.

The petitioner was sentenced to death.

He challenged his sentence as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighteenth Amendment, that provision is applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld the constitutionality of petitioner's death sentence.

We granted certiorari to resolve the question, whether the Eight Amendment bars Louisiana from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and did not -- was not intended to result in the death of the victim.

The Eight Amendment requires a punishment for a crime be graduated and proportioned to the offense.

We determined whether this requirement has been fulfilled not by the standards that prevailed when the Eight Amendment was adopted in 1791, but by considering the standards of decency that marked the progress of our maturing society.

The opinion discusses the precedents which control our Eight Amendment analysis in the case and the opinion discusses a number of Supreme Court precedents.

Three of the principal cases we discussed in the opinion are these, two are recent ones, Roper versus Simmons, that case held that the death penalty cannot be applied to a person who was under 18 when the crime was committed.

And another is Atkins versus Virginia holding the penalty cannot be imposed on a mentally retarded person.

Then there is this third case that we will discuss briefly here, which is Coker versus Georgia an older case dating from 1977.

In Coker, the Court held that the death penalty could not be imposed for the rape of an adult, where the crime did not result and was not intended to result in the death of the victim.

The case before us, of course, involves the rape of a child.

In these and other cases discussed in the opinion, the Court was guided by objective indicia of society's standards, as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice with respect to executions.

We follow that same approach here, based both on consensus and our own independent judgment.

Our holding is that this sentence does violate the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional.

The opinion reviews the history and present status of state law on the issue of capital punishment for child rape.

Six states now permit the death penalty for this crime.

By contrast, 45 jurisdiction, 44 States plus the Federal Government prohibit the execution of child rapist.

Our opinion compares these statistics with the data.

The Court relied upon in Roper and Atkins, and in the felony murder case Enmund versus Florida.

Though our review of national consensus is not confined to tallying the number of States with applicable death penalty legislation, it is of significance that the number of jurisdiction that would prohibit petitioner's execution exceeds the number of jurisdictions, we considered in those earlier precedents.

The opinion also relies upon other measures of consensus including statistics about the number of executions.

No individual has been executed for the rape of an adult or child since 1964, and no execution for any other non-homicide offense has taken place since 1963.

Louisiana is the only State since the Court's 1972 decision in Furman that has sentenced an individual to death for the crime of child rape.

Petitioner is one of only two individuals now on death row in the United States for a non-homicide offense.