Tennessee legislation allowing death penalty for child rapists edges closer to approval

The Tennessee Senate Judiciary committee meeting on Tuesday witnessed a heated debate as a bill proposing the authorization of the death penalty for child rape advanced.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1834 (SB1834), spearheaded by Republican Senator Jack Johnson, intends to authorize the death penalty as a means of punishment for heinous crimes such as the rape of a child, aggravated rape of a child, or especially aggravated rape of a child.

Republican Senator Ken Yager presented the bill to the committee. However, the committee members proposed two amendments to the bill, but both of them were not approved.

During the meeting, Democratic Senator London Lamar argued that imposing the death penalty on child rapists places an immense amount of pressure on the victims.

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Lamar expressed that it is already a delicate matter for a child to come forward and disclose that they have been violated, and it becomes even more challenging when they know that the person they are accusing is facing death.

Lamar explained her reasoning for the amendment, stating that she considers it to be a friendly amendment. She believes that it is not disruptive to the bill and simply asks to provide mental health counseling to the child throughout the process. According to Lamar, this amendment is straightforward and should not be very controversial.

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Yager strongly disagreed with Lamar, stating that he held a completely different perspective. He believed that the amendment was not friendly and would only serve to disrupt the bill.

“The child’s mental health is harmed during the time of the rape, not during the trial. When they experience the traumatic act of being raped, often by someone they are familiar with, that’s when the damage occurs,” Yager expressed passionately.

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According to Lamar, she believes that this measure could discourage children from expressing themselves.

Lamar expressed concern about the immense pressure we place on children. They understand that if they speak up about the injustices they have endured, someone might end up losing their life in retaliation.

District Attorney General Stephen Crump responded firmly to Lamar’s claims during the testimony, countering her insistence that the bill would be detrimental to the victims.

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Lamar strongly disagrees with this notion. Although the person responsible for the crime should face severe consequences and possibly spend their life in prison, he believes that we need to consider the potential ramifications of forcing children to take someone’s life. This might result in children withholding crucial information, as they fear that someone they love could be harmed as a result.

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In the end, the committee decided not to send the bill to summer study and proceeded to vote on the bill directly.

Both Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts and Chairman Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10) emphasized that voting against the bill did not indicate opposition to the death penalty for rape cases. Instead, it signaled opposition to the bill in its current form.

Roberts expressed his support for the death penalty as a punishment for the charges, but he was unable to endorse it due to the reliance on circumstantial evidence in many of those cases.

The bill received a vote of five in favor and four opposed. Senators Gardenhire, Lamar, Roberts, and Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis-District 30) voted against the bill.

The Senate Calendar Committee has now received the bill for review.

Tennessee is among the 27 states that permit capital punishment, and it currently reserves this penalty exclusively for homicide crimes. Additionally, only seven other states allow the death penalty for specific child rape offenses.

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