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Idaho House OKs expanding death penalty to child rapists

A white table with straps bolted to the floor of Idaho's lethal injection room.
Scott Ki
Boise State Public Radio
Idaho's lethal injection room.

House Republicans want to let prosecutors seek the death penalty against people charged with lewd conduct with a minor under 12 years old.

“There is a deep, dark, dark side of our culture and it’s our job to protect the children,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa). “There are times when things are so wicked that retribution is appropriate.”

The proposal is unconstitutional according to current U.S. Supreme Court precedent after the 2008 case Kennedy v. Louisiana decided by a 5-4 majority.

Skaug acknowledged that precedent during Tuesday’s debate.

“All five of those justices are gone now and I think there will be a very different decision with our present supreme court, but that would require all of you to stand up today and say, ‘We’re willing to take that fight on,’” he said.

Critics said the legal fees necessary to get a case like this to the U.S. Supreme Court would be enormous.

The bill’s required budgetary analysis says it has “no known fiscal impact.”

Idaho Public Television reported prosecutors in the state filed 217 cases against an adults for lewd conduct with a child under 16 in 2022. It’s not clear how many of those involved children under 12 as the bill outlines.

Studies routinely show death penalty cases cost taxpayers significantly more money to process than if an inmate receives a sentence of life in prison.

An analysis from 2016 found legal costs associated with a death penalty case is $1.1 million higher compared to one in which prosecutors sought a life sentence. That’s due to a defendant needing multiple public defenders assigned to them and the lengthy state and federal appeals processes.

Idaho currently holds eight people on its death row, which is a separate wing from the general prison population.

Segregating those convicted under this proposed statute from other prisoners, said Rep. Chris Mathias (D-Boise), would make their lives easier in prison, which shouldn’t be the outcome.

“They live a life of constant fear, constant duress, constant threats, constant intimidation and that is the life that they should live,” Mathias said.

“I’m not concerned about the cost,” Skaug said in his closing remarks. “And as far as putting the most horrible of these perpetrators in prison forever, the victims forever live in fear of the release of their perpetrators.”

Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen (R-Idaho Falls) initially debated and voted against the bill, but she later reversed her decision after the vote had been ratified. Mickelsen didn't say why she changed her mind.

Just one other Republican joined Democrats in opposing the legislation. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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