The Fuller Court (1888–1910)

Criminal Justice

In which case did the Fuller Court rule that death by electrocution was not cruel and unusual?

The Court ruled unanimously in In Re Kemmler (1890) that the state of New York could execute convicted murderer William Kemmler by a relatively new method of execution called electrocution. Attorneys for Kemmler argued that the punishment violated the Eighth Amendment because this punishment certainly was unusual. The Court noted that while the punishment could be classified as unusual because it was so new, it was not cruel. The Court noted that the New York legislature had the authority to pass a law allowing this new form of execution, writing: “The enactment of this statute was, in itself, within the legitimate sphere of the legislative power of the state, and in the observance of those general rules prescribed by our systems of jurisprudence; and the legislature of the state of New York determined that it did not inflict cruel and unusual punishment, and its courts have sustained that determination. We cannot perceive that the state has thereby abridged the privileges or immunities of the petitioner, or deprived him of due process of law.”


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