Furman v. Georgia

Following is the case brief for Furman v. Georgia, United States Supreme Court, (1972)

Case Summary of Furman v. Georgia:

  • Furman was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty.
  • Furman, along with defendants similarly situated, appealed the lower courts decisions, claiming that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
  • In a per curium opinion, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty was unconstitutional and violated the Eighth Amendments prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This holding resulted in a temporary ban of the death penalty.

Furman v. Georgia Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Furman was convicted of rape and murder. The penalty assigned for the conviction was the death penalty. Furman and Branch, one of the other appellants, were mentally challenged. Furman along with two other appellants who received the death penalty after convictions for rape and murder, petitioned the Supreme Court.

Procedural History:

Furman petitioned his conviction and sentence. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Whether or not the sentencing and execution of the death penalty violate the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment? Yes.

Rule of Law or Legal Principal Applied:

As applied in the present case, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.

Judgment:

The Court reversed and remanded the lower court’s rulings.

Reasoning:

Imposing the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court then held such judgment in each case is reversed where the death sentence is imposed, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings.

***Each Justice filed a separate opinion.

Concurring and Dissenting opinion:

Concurring(Marshall):

Abolishing the death penalty is a sign of the country’s advancement. The present issue is whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment based on the “evolving standards of decency.”  Once utilized punishments may no longer be constitutional. Most states have capital punishment but have narrowed their use.The death penalty is likely unconscionable to most Americans. The penalty unfair and usually administered on the basis of social class, gender and minority membership. This country safeguards its fundamental principles of justice even in times of trouble.

Concurring (Stewart):

The issue is whether the defendants’ sentences are cruel and unusual not whether it is unconstitutional.  Capital punishment is contrary to the goal of rehabilitation. It is irreversible and it does not establish a benefit for the good of humanity. The sentences are cruel because they are more harsh than necessary under state law.  In addition, the sentences are unusual because they have been arbitrarily applied to some and not other equally culpable defendants.

Concurring (Douglas):

The death penalty is applied discriminatorily. Several studies have shown that poor minorities are more likely to be executed for crimes for which white or affluent people would be incarcerated. Judges and juries selectively impose death sentences out of bias. The Eighth Amendment requires the laws to be written and applied fairly to all persons.

Concurring (White):

Regardless of the constitutionality, the manner in which the death penalty is administered violates the Eighth Amendment.

Dissenting (Burger):

Capital punishment serves the legitimate state goals of incapacitation and deterrence and is constitutional. The Framers of the Constitution intended to prohibit torture. No precedent of this Court has disputed the constitutionality of the penalty.  After taking into consideration the number of jurisdictions permitting the penalty, the legislatures’ judgments, and public polls, it is reasonable to conclude the death penalty is accepted by people.

Dissenting (Blackmun):

The death penalty should be overturned as a policy matter. However, this must not influence the Court’s constitutionality determination.

Dissenting (Powell):

Since capital punishment is mentioned in the Constitution, the Framers could not have intended the Eighth Amendment as a bar. The Court has never suggested the death penalty was unconstitutional. Whether or not the public is against the death penalty is unclear. The poor members of society are more likely to receive the death penalty, but they are also more likely to engage in criminal activity. Though a sad result of social inequality, it does not serve as grounds to hold the penalty unconstitutional.

Significance:

Furman v. Georgia as a landmark case called into question whether the imposition of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling halted all death penalty sentences.

Student Resources:

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/408/238
http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/racetoexecution/casesofrace.html

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