Tennessee will allow death penalty for child rape starting July 1

Published 4:23 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

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By Jon Styf

The Center Square

A Tennessee bill allowing for the death penalty in some cases of child rape was signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

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House Bill 1663 authorizes the death penalty in some cases of child rape starting July 1.

Florida passed a similar bill and in 2023 brought its first proposed case involving the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 in Kennedy v. Louisiana the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause prohibits the death penalty in causes where the victim did not die.

House sponsor William Lamberth, R-Portland, said the bill will send a message to potential offenders. He read testimony from victims sent to him supporting the bill while it was on the House floor.

“If someone rapes a child in this state, they should die,” Lamberth said. “Not in every single case, but in those cases that there are aggravating circumstances and those cases where they have multiple prior felonies, multiple victims, multiple victims that are in particularly vulnerable situations.

“It should at least be an option for a jury for the worst of the worst offenders out there.”

Rep. Aftyn Behn, D-Nashville, said she opposes the bill and opposes the death penalty in any case.

“The death penalty is incompatible with the right to life,” Behn said.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said his concern with death penalty legislation is that studies have shown that men and women of color, those with intellectual disabilities and those without financial means are more likely to get sentenced heavily.

“Until those inequities in the system itself have been addressed adequately, I must vote no on your bill,” Hardaway says. “But that does not change how I feel about the despicable human beings who would rape another human being. And especially the lowlifes that would rape, abuse, sexually assault a child.”