Supreme Court Takes on Another Death Penalty Case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Friday it would decide whether the death penalty can be imposed for the crime of raping a child, expanding its review of how capital punishment is carried out in the United States.

The nation's highest court agreed to hear an appeal by a Louisiana man who is the only person in the United States on death row for a crime other than murder. He is arguing the death penalty for child rape violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. . . .

There is an interesting economics point here that I wrote about in Freedomnomics. I think that the evidence strongly shows a deterrence effect from the death penalty, but the argument could be quite different for other crimes. If you already face the death penalty for rape, you might want to kill the victim to avoid witnesses. After all, what more can they do to you if you already face the death penalty? The reason that isn't clear is because committing what is considered an even worse crime will increase the probability of arrest and also increase the probability of being given the death penalty. The fact that this child rapist is the only person on death row thus makes it more likely that the possibility of the death penalty for raping a child did not appreciably increase the likelihood that he would have killed his victim.

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