In a case drawing international attention, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments today about whether states should be allowed to seek the death penalty in cases of child rape that do not involve murder. Only two men are currently on death row for such cases, both in Louisiana. The Supreme Court will take up the case of Patrick Kennedy, a Jefferson Parish man convicted in 2003 of raping an 8-year-old girl. The court will only be weighing in on Kennedy’s death sentence, which, if overturned, will mean that he will still face life in prison.

The case is generating vehement debate over what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” Prosecutors have likened Kennedy, who’s crime involved injuries to the victim and an attempted cover-up, to hardened murderers. Four other states – Texas, Oklahoma, Montana and South Carolina – have similar laws allowing the death penalty in some child rape convictions. All four states are supporting Louisiana’s case, and Texas’ Solicitor General Ted Cruz will actually be arguing the case before the Supreme Court. On the other side, Kennedy’s attorneys are arguing that the Supreme Court follow a 1977 court ruling, Coker v. Georgia, which banned the death penalty in a case involving the rape of a young adult. They are also likely to argue that such a strict penalty could make it more difficult to get victim confessions and convictions. An editorial in today’s L.A. Times argues against allowing the death penalty.

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