The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Eighth Amendment

What caused the U.S. Supreme Court to change course and uphold death penalty statutes only a few years after its Furman decision?

The Furman decision caused many states to pass new death penalty statutes that would provide more guidance to jurors on whether a defendant should be sentenced to death. Georgia’s new statute required jurors to focus on aggravating and mitigating factors associated with the capital crime. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that this Georgia law was constitutional in Gregg v. Georgia. Because it focused on these aggravating and mitigating factors, Justice Potter Stewart wrote: “No longer can a jury wantonly and freakishly impose the death sentence; it is always circumscribed by the legislative guidelines.” Stewart wrote that the new statute focused the jury on “the particularized nature of the crime and the particularized characteristics of the individual defendant.” Since Gregg, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the death penalty is per se unconstitutional. Only Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented.


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