So far in our series on landmark criminal cases in U.S. history, we’ve covered Miranda vs. Arizona and Gideon vs. Wainright. Each of these are related to your rights under the Fourth Amendment. But for our third installment, we’re reviewing Kennedy vs. Louisiana (2008). This was a vital Eighth Amendment case that specifically dealt with the death penalty. We’ll discuss the details of the case, the conclusions, and how it might be relevant to you!
Kennedy vs. Lousiana Summarized
First, let’s briefly summarize the facts of the case. Be advised, the details are quite brutal. In 2003, Patrick O’Neal Kennedy of Louisiana was sentenced to death for the rape of his 8 year old step-daughter. Although Mr. Kennedy plead innocent and appealed his sentence, the Louisiana court believed the death penalty a fitting sentence given the savagery of the crime. And the fact that this was committed against a child.
Now, the Eighth Amendment specifically forbids “cruel and unusual punishment” in criminal cases. However, exactly what is and is not “cruel and unusual” has been contested for years. Nevertheless, courts generally work on the principle that “the punishment should fit the crime.” In this case, the state of Louisiana believed the punishment fit the crime.
Second, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case in 2008. Those defending Mr. Kennedy argued, on the basis of the Tenth Amendment, that states can impose the death penalty as they see fit, independent of the federal government. In the end, the court ruled 5-4 that “the Eighth Amendment bars Louisiana from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the victim’s death.”
Kennedy vs. Louisiana and You
Third, what does all of this mean? It means that the death penalty is unconstitutional for all cases that do not involve homicide or crimes against the state such as treason. Therefore, unless you’ve committed homicide or treason, you cannot face a death sentence.
More and more restrictions on the application of the death penalty have arisen. This comes as one of the more recent examples.