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The case of furman v georgia and the issue of capital punishment in the us

Georgia, 1972 Historical Background Few subjects generate as much public debate as capital punishment. The death sentence has been an accepted part of the American code of justice since the first European settlers arrived on this continent. In 1972, the year the Supreme Court decided Furman v. Georgia, the death penalty was a part of the criminal codes in 40 of the 50 States.

  1. Fewer and fewer people were executed as the century passed.
  2. Dretke, 2005 Miller-El's case went to the Supreme Court a second time in 2005.
  3. Georgia, 1976; Coker v. He argued that the prosecution had violated his constitutional rights by excluding African Americans from serving on the jury, striking 10 of the 11 black potential jurors.

Widespread popular opposition to the death penalty did not exist when the Court handed down its Furman decision; indeed, it was the Court's decision that brought attention to the issue. In the subsequent debate, supporters of the death penalty pointed to its wide public acceptance as a reflection of the "will of the people.

  • Georgia, 1976 Gregg v;
  • The newer codes have been generally upheld in such cases as Proffit v;
  • This unusual procedure reflected not only the intense differences of opinion within the majority, but also the difficulty of deciding the constitutionality—or presumed lack thereof—of the death sentence.

They pointed out that society no longer sanctions brutal and barbaric forms of punishment, such as burning people at the stake. Just as those punishments passed from use as society embraced a higher standard of decency, they said, so, too, should the practice of State-sanctioned executions.

Critics pointed to trends apparently moving in that direction. Fewer and fewer people were executed as the century passed.

Historical Background

Moreover, the number of death sentences has decreased in proportion to the number of cases in which it might have been used. Circumstances of the Case The Furman case consolidated appeals from three convicted murderers serving out sentences on death row.

The lead case was that of William Henry Furman, a 26-year-old African American from Georgia, who had broken into a home with the intent to commit theft.

The home owner surprised Furman, however, and attempted to apprehend him.

  • The four newest members of the Burger Court including the chief justice opposed the decision, while the holdovers from the Warren Court comprised a divided majority;
  • He petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled in Miller-El's favor, stating that he should have been given the opportunity to prove that his sentence was the result of discriminatory jury practices, which included the "Texas shuffle" method of eliminating black jurors and a training memo that instructed prosecutors on how to skew juries on the basis of race.

Furman, armed with a revolver, ran away. While fleeing, Furman said, he "dropped his gun, which discharged and killed the home owner. The jury had the choice of sentencing Furman to life imprisonment or to death. The other cases were those of Lucius Jackson, Jr.

These two men were also African American. Constitutional Issues The cases considered the 8th and 14th Amendments—the Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Equal Protection clauses, specifically. Was the death penalty, as applied by the States in the three cases, "cruel and unusual"?

Would the death penalty be "cruel and unusual" if it typically were given to poor people and minorities, while affluent or white people were given life sentences for similar crimes? Did such a double standard violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? Furman's attorneys argued that criminal justice could be served well enough with life imprisonment. Most importantly, however, the attorneys argued that poor people and people of color routinely received the death penalty for capital offenses, at a rate vastly disproportionate to that of whites, particularly affluent whites, accused of similar offenses.

Circumstances of the Case

This was a clear violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Attorneys for the State of Georgia argued that the death penalty was permitted under the due process provisions of the 5th and 14th Amendments and did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" as prohibited by the 8th Amendment. The attorneys argued that "the death penalty served to discourage [or deter] crime and also satisfied the public's moral outrage when terrible crimes were committed. The four newest members of the Burger Court including the chief justice opposed the decision, while the holdovers from the Warren Court comprised a divided majority.

The majority opinion reflected these divisions but overturned Furman's sentence nonetheless.

The case of furman v georgia and the issue of capital punishment in the us

The Court held that the death penalty, as it was currently applied in State criminal codes, violated the 8th Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of condemned persons. Each majority justice, Mr. Brennan, wrote a separate concurring opinion supporting the majority decision.

Each believed that Furman had indeed been deprived of his constitutional rights. The justices could not agree on an argument striking down the death penalty across the board, however.

This unusual procedure reflected not only the intense differences of opinion within the majority, but also the difficulty of deciding the constitutionality—or presumed lack thereof—of the death sentence.

  • The Court held that the death penalty, as it was currently applied in State criminal codes, violated the 8th Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of condemned persons;
  • In a seven-to-two vote, the U;
  • Furman's attorneys argued that criminal justice could be served well enough with life imprisonment;
  • It effectively imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and struck down state systems that gave juries the ability to impose the death penalty;
  • In his defense, McCleskey brought before the court a study that clearly demonstrated that juries in Georgia are much more likely to impose the death penalty if the victim is white and the defendant is black, arguing that Georgia's prosecutors' decisions to seek death were tainted with race discrimination and violated the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments.

Several argued—taking the position of judicial restraint—that the death penalty was a matter for the people to decide, through their legislatures. Others argued that emotional appeals were not appropriate in Supreme Court opinions. In Furman the Supreme Court ruled that the sentence of death, itself, was not unconstitutional, but that the procedures and applications as practiced by the States were.

Many States rewrote their criminal codes immediately, to more narrowly define and apply the death sentence. The newer codes have been generally upheld in such cases as Proffit v. Florida, 1976, and Jurek v. The Court continued to hammer at vagueness in State criminal codes in Gregg v. Georgia, 1976; Coker v. Georgia, 1977; and Godfrey v.

In the Gregg case, the Court developed at some length the history and arguments on the death sentence. At one point, the decision explicitly upheld the "constitutionality of the death sentence. Yet the legal canon also accepts the notion of "evolving standards of decency.

Consult an almanac to determine how many States include the death penalty among their criminal punishments. How many persons have been put to death in the most recent year for which you have statistics? How would you go about verifying any change in the racial bias claimed by Furman in his case? How could you find out if it is more likely for African Americans to be sentenced to death for murdering someone of their own race than for persons of European ancestry that is, whites who murder other whites?