Tennessee Senate Takes Step Toward Authorizing Death Penalty in Child Rape Cases

Tennessee Senate Takes Step Toward Authorizing Death Penalty in Child Rape Cases

Amid concerns expressed by opponents that the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the death sentence in cases involving child rape, the Tennessee Senate, which is controlled by the Republican Party, moved legislation permitting the death penalty on Tuesday.

By a vote of 24-5, Republicans passed the legislation. It still needs to pass the similarly conservative-dominated House chamber before it can be signed by Governor Bill Lee.

The Tennessee bill, if it becomes law, would allow the state to seek the death penalty in cases when an adult is found guilty of aggravated child rape. Those found guilty face the potential of life in jail without the possibility of release or death.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida passed a measure akin to this over a year ago. Advocates in each state contend that the objective is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court, which is presently under conservative leadership, to reexamine a 2008 decision that declared the use of the death penalty in cases involving child sexual abuse to be unconstitutional.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Republican Sen. Ken Yager contended that his bill was constitutional since it only allowed district attorneys to seek the death penalty for individuals found guilty of child rape.

“We are protecting the children using a constitutional approach,” Yager stated. “I would not stand here and argue for this bill if I didn’t believe that with my whole heart.”

Yager’s position is different from that of her supporters in the Tennessee Legislature, where Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth has acknowledged that although Tennessee had previously permitted the death penalty for convicted child rapists, the 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court eventually struck down that legislation.

Read Also: Missouri Man Faces Execution for Rape and Murder of 9-Year-Old

Other legislators likened their objective to the lengthy struggle to reverse Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 decision that legalized abortion across the country but was ultimately overturned in 2022.

“Maybe the atmosphere is different on the Supreme Court,” Republican Sen. Janice Bowling stated. “We’re simply challenging a ruling.”

Democrats retorted that the plan would make child rape victims more fearful about speaking up since doing so might lead to their death. Some cautioned that predators would be motivated to murder their prey in order to escape receiving a more severe penalty.

Tennessee is now delaying all executions while officials examine modifications to the state’s lethal injection procedure. Following a scathing 2022 investigation that exposed numerous shortcomings in the manner Tennessee prisoners were executed, Governor Lee announced the halt.

There is no indication of when such adjustments will be finished. Furthermore, although it hasn’t done so yet, the state Supreme Court is authorized to issue death warrants for prisoners on death row.