Tennessee gov approves law authorizing death penalty for child rapists

May 16, 2024 | Political News

Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee has signed off on legislation allowing the death penalty for criminals convicted of child rape.  Lee quietly signed off on the legislation last week.

The law goes into effect on July first and authorizes the state to pursue capital punishment in cases where an adult is convicted of aggravated rape of a child. Those convicted could face a sentence of death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for life without the possibility for parole, per the AP.

The state previously allowed convicted child rapists to face the death penalty, but the US Supreme Court nullified the law in 2008, deeming it unconstitutional to use capital punishment in cases of child sexual battery.

Supporters of the bill hope that the conservative-majority Supreme Court will reverse the ruling, pointing to the fact that Roe V Wade was overturned nearly 50 years after the 1973 ruling. “Maybe the atmosphere is different on the Supreme Court,” said GOP Senator Janice Bowling during debate on the bill in April. “We’re simply challenging a ruling.”

Lee said on Tuesday that he signed the bill because crimes against children are “some of the most heinous that there are,” not because he hoped the bill would be “tested” in court. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a similar law in 2023, and Idaho’s GOP-controlled House approved similar legislation this year, though the bill stalled in the state Senate.

All executions in Tennessee are currently on hold as officials review changes to the state’s lethal injection process. Lee issued the pause after a report from 2022 detailed flaws in how inmates in the state were put to death. It is currently unclear when the changes will be completed.