Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Heinous Crimes


The Washington Post, in an unsigned editorial, argues,
There is no crime more heinous than the rape of a child. But does the Constitution allow states to impose the death penalty for such a crime when the child's life has not been taken?
Well, if we accept the first premise, the obvious answer is "yes". But homicide is pretty horrific (and that's without getting into, say, mass murder or genocide), so perhaps we shouldn't start playing a game of "My 'heinous' is bigger than yours." The Post recites,
[A coalition of social workers and interest groups that work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse] argues convincingly that the already gross underreporting of child sexual abuse might only be exacerbated if the death penalty were imposed in such cases. In most such cases, the perpetrators are family members or acquaintances; children might be even more frightened to report a crime if they thought they'd be responsible for the death of someone they knew or even loved. Even if the child was brave enough to come forward, a family member with ties to the offender could prevent disclosure to law enforcement authorities.
Here's something else that probably should have occurred to them: if the penalty is the same whether you leave your victim alive or dead, some will choose the latter. The "Lindbergh laws" imposing long sentences or even the death penalty for kidnapping are often described as having reduced the chances of recovering a kidnapping victim alive.

3 comments:

  1. "the already gross underreporting of child sexual abuse might only be exacerbated if the death penalty were imposed . . . in most such cases, the perpetrators are family members or acquaintances; children might be even more frightened to report a crime if they thought they'd be responsible for the death of someone they knew or even loved."

    Does the word ubiquitous mean anything to these people? It's not like family members are exactly lining up to cooperate and encourage victims to testify as it is . . . I would be interested to see how many of these groups/individuals are against the death penalty in every case and are shaping their comments accordingly.

    As far as the comment regarding the "Lindbergh laws" goes, it is valid to a point. However, it is only one factor to consider. To a greater or lesser degree it applies to pretty much all criminal conduct. I'm inclined to think that people who employ the threat of lethal force and then carry someone away and unlawfully hold them against their will are not particularly nice people, and might be inclined to kill the victim anyway . . . beside, what about the argument that increased penalties don't decrease the commission of crimes because criminals don't ever think they will get caught . . . I suppose that the next argument we will hear is that since most rape cases involve acquaintances the fact that rape is a capital crime leads to under reporting, oh wait . . . : )

    CWD

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is a qualitative difference between crimes where the offender is unknown and would be hard to identify, and those where the offender is known or is in sufficient proximity to the victim that identity becomes likely. Let's not suggest a false equivalence between crimes where offenders "don't expect to be caught" because the offender is a stranger to the victim and conceals his identity or the victim is dead, and those where the offender is relying upon threats or coercion to avoid the reporting of the crime.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Let's not forget how many crimes occur "where the offender is relying upon threats or coercion to avoid the reporting of the crime" It extends way beyond the kidnap sceanario . . . arguably it is why we have the whole "anti-snitch" movement.

    CWD

    ReplyDelete