Runner-Up Best Oralist
Runner-Up Best Brief
Rutherford Harrison, Petitioner v. State of Alivitha, Respondent
1. Whether the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause prohibits a State from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child under twelve years of age.
2. Whether Alivitha’s capital rape statute violates the Eighth Amendment insofar as it fails to genuinely narrow the class of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty.SUMMARY THE OF FACTS:
On January 20, 2001, Linda Kennedy returned home after work to find her eight-year-old daughter, W.J.C., unconscious and profusely bleeding on her bed. Kennedy immediately called 911 and an ambulance and police car were dispatched to the residence. Upon their arrival, the paramedics discovered that W.J.C.’s bleeding was the result of extensive trauma to the vaginal area. Specifically, W.J.C. suffered from a third degree perenial tear. The paramedics transported W.J.C. to the Alivitha General Hospital, where a rape kit was done and Dr. Chester Arthur performed emergency surgery to repair the damage. W.J.C. remained in the hospital for two weeks after the incident.
Kennedy spoke with police officer Zachary Polk and relayed the following details. That morning, she went to work at 8:30 am and left W.J.C. in the care of Rutherford Harrison, her husband and W.J.C.’s stepfather. When she returned home at 5:30 p.m., she noticed that the front door was ajar and the house was silent. Panicked, Kennedy called out her daughter’s name several times and eventually discovered W.J.C. in her bedroom, bleeding and unconscious. Kennedy immediately called 911 and accompanied her daughter to the emergency room. She could not vouch for her husband’s absence but suggested that he could be at his parents’ home. Kennedy also provided Officer Polk with a description of Harrison and his car.
Officer Polk conveyed all of this information to the Wesami County police department, who identified Harrison as a potential suspect. Later that evening, police spotted Harrison driving to a neighboring state on Interstate I-905. Harrison initially failed to stop for the officers and led them on a thirty minute chase. The police eventually managed to get Harrison to stop his vehicle, and he was brought to police headquarters for questioning. Harrison waived his right to an attorney and after several hours of questioning, confessed that he had sexual intercourse with W.J.C. Harrison was charged with aggravated rape of a minor under twelve years of age pursuant to Alivitha Criminal Code, Section 509.2.
John Van Buren, an experienced attorney specializing in death penalty cases, represented Harrison at trial. During the guilt or innocence portion of the bifurcated trial, the judge admitted Harrison’s confession and the rape kit into evidence, which through DNA evidence conclusively identified Harrison as the perpetrator.
The prosecution first called W.J.C. to the stand. W.J.C. testified that Harrison had forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. In addition, she testified that her life has completely changed since the day of the attack. She has recurring nightmares of the rape and finds it difficult to sleep. Moreover, her attempts to return to school have been to no avail. She experienced panic attacks every time she saw a male teacher, making it difficult for her to concentrate in her classes. As a result, W.J.C. is now home schooled.
Dr. John Chin, an expert in pediatric medicine, testified for the prosecution as well. He explained that in his ten years of practice, W.J.C.’s injuries were the most serious that he had ever seen resulting from a sexual assault.
At the start of jury deliberations, the trial judge instructed the jury “not to discuss in any way the possibility of penalties whatsoever.” After deliberating for two hours, the jury convicted Harrison of aggravated rape of a minor under twelve years of age. During the sentencing phase, the trial instructed the jury that it had to impose either a sentence of life with no possibility of parole or a capital verdict. The prosecution, seeking the death penalty, reminded the jury that it had already found two aggravating circumstances pursuant to Section 509.3(A)(1) and (A)(9), which made Harrison eligible for the capital verdict.
Van Buren presented evidence of several mitigating factors. First, he submitted the testimony of a state psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Monroe, who examined Harrison both upon his arrest and just prior to the sentencing phase. Dr. Monroe testified that Harrison had a troubled childhood himself, having been raped by an uncle when he was just seven years old. In addition, she testified that Harrison had undergone a transformation since his arrest. Not only did he show genuine remorse for what he did, but he also exhibited a deeper connection with his spirituality and wanted to minister and help other inmates who experienced sexual abuse as children. Finally, Van Buren presented evidence that Harrison had no prior criminal history. At the end of the three-day hearing, the jury imposed the capital verdict pursuant to Alivitha Criminal Code, Section 509.4, designating in writing that it found two aggravating circumstances pursuant to Section 509.3. In addition, the jury unanimously found that there were no mitigating circumstances.
Harrison filed a motion for a new trial. The district court denied his motion, finding that imposing a capital sentence for an aggravated rape of a minor is constitutionally permissible. Harrison timely appealed his sentence to the Alivitha Court of Special Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court. The Alivitha Court of Appeals bypassed the Court of Special Appeals and affirmed the district court’s holding that imposing the death penalty for a rape of a minor under the age of twelve does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court of Appeals also held that the Alivitha capital statute genuinely narrows the class of eligible offenders and is therefore constitutional. One Court of Appeals judge dissented from the majority on both issues. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Harrison v. Alivitha, No. 0101-7.
A. Aggravated rape is a rape committed upon a person sixty-five years of age or older or where the anal, oral, or vaginal sexual intercourse is deemed to be without lawful consent of the victim because it is committed under any one or more of the following circumstances:
(4) When the victim is under the age of twelve years. Lack of knowledge of the victim's age shall not be a defense.
D. (1) Whoever commits the crime of aggravated rape shall be punished by life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.
(2) However, if the victim was under the age of twelve years, as provided by Paragraph (A)(4) of this Section:
(a) And if the district attorney seeks a capital verdict, the offender shall be punished by death or life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, in accordance with the determination of the jury.
(b) And if the district attorney does not seek a capital verdict, the offender shall be punished by life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.
A. The following shall be considered aggravating circumstances:
(1) The offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape, forcible rape, aggravated kidnapping, second degree kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated arson, aggravated escape, assault by drive-by shooting, armed robbery, first degree robbery, second degree robbery, simple robbery, or terrorism.
(9) The victim was under the age of twelve years or sixty-five years of age or older.
Alivitha Criminal Code, Section 509.4 (2000)
A sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that at least two statutory aggravating circumstances exist and, after consideration of any mitigating circumstances, recommends that the sentence of death be imposed.