The Death Penalty and the Supreme Court
The United States still uses capital punishment long after many other countries have banned its use. Should it?
Forty-five years ago, in Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional because it was administered arbitrarily. Justice Potter Stewart (Links to an external site.)famously wrote that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.”
As a result, many states rewrote their death-penalty statutes in an attempt to narrow the punishment to the worst offenders. For example, Arizona legislature passed a law in 1973 that required prosecutors to prove at least one of six aggravating factors before the death penalty could be imposed.
The constitutionality of the death penalty returned to the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. There, the court concluded that state lawmakers could "minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious" executions by specifying aggravating circumstances for which the death penalty could apply. In the four decades since Gregg, a number of states have expanded their list of aggravating factors, such as committing murders for hire or committing multiple murders.
Scholars call this problem “aggravator creep.” As a result of Arizona’s ever-expanding list of aggravating factors, 99% of those convicted of first-degree murder are eligible for execution.
What are your thoughts? What does your research tell you about how different states/countries have handled this issue?
Link (Links to an external site.) – Article: "Will the Supreme Court Kill the Death Penalty This Term?"
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