The selective death penalty provision of the Federal Kidnaping Act cannot be justified by its ostensible purpose. Whatever the power of Congress to impose a death penalty for violation of the Federal Kidnaping Act, Congress cannot impose such a penalty in a manner that needlessly penalizes the assertion of a constitutional right.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging in count one that three named defendants had transported from Connecticut to New Jersey a person who had been kidnapped and held for ransom, and who had been harmed when liberated. The district court dismissed this count of the indictment, holding the Federal Kidnapping Act unconstitutional because it impaired the free exercise of the constitutional right to a jury trial. The Government appealed and the court reversed finding error in the dismissal of the kidnapping count of the indictment.
Is the selective death penalty provision in the federal statute constitutional?
The court agreed that the death penalty provision of the Federal Kidnapping Act imposed an impermissible burden upon the exercise of a constitutional right, but held that the provision was severable from the remainder of the statute. The court found there was no reason to invalidate the law in its entirety simply because its capital punishment clause violated the Constitution. The court found that elimination of the provision did not alter the substantive reach of the statute and left completely unchanged its basic operation.