Texas Allows Death Penalty for Child Rapists

By: John Scanlan, Attorney at Law

Following Jessica Lunsford’s kidnapping, rape, and murder in Florida, Texas has passed its own “Jessica’s Law,” which recently went into effect. The new law, House Bill 8, mandates stiffer penalties for a variety of sexual crimes, including providing for capital punishment for repeat convictions for sexual assault on a child with aggravating circumstances.

House Bill 8 creates a sentence of 25 to 99 years for anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 6 years of age or a child under 14 years old involving serious bodily injury, death threats, or use of a deadly weapon. A second conviction would mandate the death penalty.

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently upheld a sentence of death for a child rapist. Louisiana v. Kennedy. 05-KA-1981 (La. 2007). The Louisiana Court held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on capital punishment, in a case not involving the death of the victim, Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), does not apply when the victim is under the age of twelve. The SCOTUS blog reports that a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Kennedy has been docketed in the United States Supreme Court.

Coker involved the rape of a 16 year old girl. The Supreme Court held that “the death penalty, which ‘is unique in its severity and irrevocability,’ is an excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life.” The Louisiana Court held that the brutal rape of an 8 year old, in Kennedy, fit into “a narrow category of the most serious crimes … most deserving of execution,” as described by the U.S. Supreme Court in Coker. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Kennedy is currently the only inmate on death row for child rape.

Texas is the seventh state to enact capital punishment for the rape of a child.

The Jessica Lunsford Act also extends the statute of limitations for certain sexual offenses against a child from 10 years after the child’s 18th birthday to 20 years. In some instances, the limitation is abolished, altogether; a person serving time for continuous sexual abuse of a child is no longer eligible for parole or mandatory supervision; and the law adds persons convicted of certain offenses, including sexual offenses to the list of defendants ineligible for community supervision or deferred judgment.