The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Eighth Amendment

Is the death penalty considered cruel and unusual?

Currently, the death penalty per se is not considered cruel and unusual. Approximately 38 states still have the death penalty as an option in their criminal codes. The U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia (1972; see LegalSpeak, p. 74) ruled 5 to 4 that Georgia’s death penalty statute did violate the Eighth Amendment. That ruling led to the invalidation of the death penalty nationwide for four years until the Court in Gregg v. Georgia (1976; see LegalSpeak, p. 78) upheld some more narrowly drafted death penalty statutes.

Since 1976, the Court has never invalidated the death penalty on its face. Instead, it has prohibited application of the death penalty to certain types of defendants, including those who are insane in Ford v. Wainwright (1986), those who are mentally retarded in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), those who were juveniles when they committed murder in Roper v. Simmons (2005), those who are rapists in Coker v. Georgia (1977), and child rapists when the rapes do not result in murder as in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008).


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Law Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App