Attorneys for Patrick Kennedy, the only person on death row in the U.S. for a non-homicide offense, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether a death sentence for a crime where the victim was not murdered is constitutional. Kennedy was convicted of raping his 8-year-old step-daughter in Louisiana in 1998. Only a handful of states have laws that would allow a death sentence for such a crime. No one has been executed for a non-homicide offense since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and Kennedy is the only person under a death sentence for such an offense.

Kennedy has maintained his innocence of the underlying crime since his arrest, and defense attorney Jelpi P. Picou, Jr., notes that there was “no physical evidence” linking Kennedy to the crime.

There has not been an execution for rape in the United States since 1964. The U.S. Supreme Court last looked at the constitutional question in 1977, when it held that the death penalty for the rape of an adult was unconstitutional, calling the death penalty “grossly disproportionate” and “excessive” in that instance. In 1997, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Louisiana’s child-rape law because the defendant had not been sentenced to death. At that time, Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer indicated that they had reservations about the law and that the Court’s refusal to consider the appeal “does not in any way constitute a ruling on the merits.”
(ABC News, September 11, 2007). Read Kennedy’s Petition for certiorari. See also, Arbitrariness, Crimes Punishable by Death, and Supreme Court.