Legislative Activity - South Carolina
Posted: January 29, 2007
- South Carolina and Oklahoma Governors Sign Bills Expanding Death Penalty South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry have signed into law legislation that allows proseuctors to seek the death penalty for repeat child molesters. The new South Carolina law allows a death sentence if the accused has been twice convicted of raping a child younger than 11-years-old. It also sets a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for some sex offenders, mandates that people convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree wear an electronic monitoring device, and requires registered sex offenders to update their address every six months. The Oklahoma measure makes the death penalty an option for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent conviction for rape, sodomy, or lewd molestation involving a child under 14. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Montana, Louisiana, and Florida are the only states to allow the death penalty for certain sex crimes. No one convicted of a sex offense has been executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the capital punishment 30 years ago. David Bruck, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, said the measures might actually put child rape victims' lives at risk. He notes, "The last message you want to give an offender who has the life of a child in his hands is you might as well kill the child because he'd already got the death penalty. This is a very stupid message." (Associated Press, June 8, 2006 and June 9, 2006). See Recent Legislative Activity. The constitutionality of the law is not clear because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty for rape of an adult is barred by the Eighth Amendment. (Coker v. Georgia (1977)).
- In South Carolina, lawmakers have abandoned a legislative provision that would have allowed the death penalty for sex offenders convicted a second time of assaulting children younger than 11 years old. Legislators in the South Carolina House eliminated the proposal because it likely would have prevented a broader sex offender bill from passing through the legislature before the General Assembly adjourns on June 1. Opponents of the death penalty provision have said the state would face hefty legal bills to defend the law and that imposing the death penalty on this class of offenders would give them no incentive to spare their victims' lives. (Associated Press, May 21, 2006).
- South Carolina Bill To Expand Death Penalty Draws Criticism A bill to expand South Carolina's capital punishment statute so that those who are convicted a second time of raping children under 11 are eligible for the death penalty has drawn criticism from those who worry the bill may result in unintended consequences. Fears that the legislation will lead to family members refusing to come forward regarding intra-family offenses and that it may also result in more rape victims being killed are among the chief concerns regarding the proposed legislation. The bill has been approved by the South Carolina Senate and will soon be considered by legislators in the House. Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California, said that a state shouldn't impose the death penalty for twice convicted sex offenders "simply to give the rapist an incentive not to kill the victim." DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter agreed, adding, "It may actually create more death because the person facing the death penlaty for this kind of offense might be inclined to say, 'No greater punishment incurred if I kill the victim'." The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty can't be used in cases involving adult rapes, but it has not weighed in the issue of imposing the death penalty on those who commit child rapes. South Carolina Representative Fletcher Smith said that he believes the proposed bill won't meet constitutional standards regarding the death penalty because a death is not involved. (Associated Press, April 4, 2006) See Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty.