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Bill That Could Enable Tennessee To Impose Death Penalty Sentences For Child Rape Passes House Subcommittee

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Kelly M. Jackson] –

Yesterday in the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, a bill was proposed that not only would enhance the penalty for child rape in the state of Tennessee, but could lead to enabling other states that would be so inclined, to pass similar laws.

House Bill 1663 (HB1663) carried in The House by Representative William Lamberth (R-Portland-District 44), and in the Senate by State Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin-District 27) was presented in subcommittee for their review and consideration. 

HB1663 states, “Sentencing – As introduced, authorizes the death penalty as a punishment for rape of a child, aggravated rape of a child, or especially aggravated rape of a child. – Amends TCA Title 39; Title 40 and Chapter 1062 of the Public Acts of 2022.”

While the motivation, and implications for passing such legislation can be observed as relatively self-explanatory, due to a Supreme Court precedent from nearly 20 years ago, passing such a law in Tennessee could lead to an opportunity for cases involving this type of heinous crime to be reconsidered in front of what is now in 2024, an arguably more conservative court.

Back in 2007, Kennedy V Louisiana led to a handful of states that had death penalty statutes for child rape on the books, to abolish those standards. In that case, a 5-4 Supreme Court ruled that to impose death in a crime that did not result, and was not intended to result, in the child’s death was a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution and would be an exercise of “cruel and unusual punishment”. 

Because of this precedent, there would likely be challenges to the legislation and Representative Lamberth says that they are prepared exactly for that. 

When presenting the bill to the subcommittee, Lamberth said, “This is the greatest type of bill we could possibly consider, when talking about the death penalty it is the ultimate penalty that society can allocate towards an individual that has gone through the entire system and been found guilty of an offense”.

He continued, “I don’t take this bill lightly, this is something that came from years of analysis and conversation in my community.. we’re going to protect our children in the state of Tennessee. If someone rapes one of our children, they are forfeiting their own life, period, end of story, and let it go out far and wide, that if this passes, we will fight this all the way through the court system and to the US Supreme Court, so that hopefully every state in the union has the ability again to set the penalties in their own state”.

Lamberth’s presentation of the bill was followed by robust debate, which revealed bi-partisan support from both republicans and democrats on the committee. The only representative on the committee who was recorded as voting NO against the bill was Representative Gloria Johnson, (D-Knoxville-District 90). 

Johnson’s primary argument against supporting the bill was that she feared, based on information she said she collected from victims and victim advocates, that because of the severity of the punishment, that it would create a “chilling effect” and deter victims from reporting their assaults.

Johnson also asserted that for victims to have to appear before appeals courts and relate their experiences would “re-victimize” the child. 

Johnson added, “we’re already talking about, you know a 12-year-old that might have been impregnated, not only is she victimized every day by the state, that is going to require her to carry that pregnancy, but then, they’re going to require her to show up for appeal after appeal”. 

Johnson’s reservations were not shared by her Democrat colleagues, who acknowledged the seriousness of the penalty, and at the same time, also acknowledged that the type of crime that is being considered deserves the harshest possible penalty due to the particular vulnerability of the victims in these types of cases. 

While passage of this bill out of subcommittee is a win for House Bill 1663, the voice vote does not allow for clarity on how each subcommittee member voted for the record.

Because Chairman Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski-District 70) chose to use a voice vote to hide the voting records of subcommittee members from public scrutiny, we can only assume Chairman Doggett supports HB1663 and is responsible for its passage. Chairman Doggett could have used a transparent roll call vote, but opted for a voice vote to shield committee members and himself from accountability and in this case, responsibility for the passage of this bill’s passage out of the subcommittee.

According to a statement made by Rep. Jody Barrett (R-Dickson-District 69) on the Mill Creek View Tennessee Podcast, all a legislator has to do in order to have their voice vote recorded is give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the clerk. This means that it is very easy for legislators to put their vote on the record and create transparency with their constituents if they choose to.

However, only one representative on the subcommittee appeared to have requested that her vote be counted. Democrat Representative Gloria Johnson requested to be recorded as voting NO.

Following its passage in the subcommittee, The bill was referred to the full House Criminal Justice Committee. If it passes there, the bill will then move on to the House floor for a full vote. It’s companion bill, SB1834, was introduced and passed on first consideration. 

We will continue to follow this bill as it works its way through the legislative process and report any and all updates on its progress.

About the Author: Kelly Jackson is a recent escapee from corporate America, and a California refugee to Tennessee. Christ follower, Wife and Mom of three amazing teenagers. She has a BA in Comm from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has a background in law enforcement and human resources. Since the summer of 2020, she has spent any and all free time in the trenches with local grassroots orgs, including Mom’s for Liberty Williamson County and Tennessee Stands as a core member.  Outspoken advocate for parents rights, medical freedom, and individual liberty. Kelly can be reached at

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