1976 July 2

Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of the Death Penalty


In Gregg v. Georgia, decided on this day, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of three state death penalty laws that had been passed following Furman v. Georgia on June 29, 1972. In Furman, the Court had held that the death penalty as applied was unconstitutional because of a lack of procedural safeguards. Following the Furman decision, the newly approved death penalty laws included a bifurcated jury process that separated the decision on guilt from the decision on the sentence, specification of aggravating and mitigating circumstances to guide jury decision-making, and appellate review of death sentences.

Justice Thurgood Marshall (see below) dissented, arguing that the death penalty was per se an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court: “While the jury is permitted to consider any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, it must find and identify at least one statutory aggravating factor before it may impose a penalty of death. In this way, the jury’s discretion is channeled. No longer can a jury wantonly and freakishly impose the death sentence; it is always circumscribed by the legislative guidelines. In addition, the review function of the Supreme Court of Georgia affords additional assurance that the concerns that prompted our decision in Furman are not present to any significant degree in the Georgia procedure applied here.”

Read: David Oshinsky, Capital Punishment on Trial: Furman v. Georgia and the Death Penalty in Modern America (2010)

Justice Thurgood Marshall, dissenting: “The death penalty, unnecessary to promote the goal of deterrence or to further any legitimate notion of retribution, is an excessive penalty forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. I respectfully dissent from the Court’s judgment upholding the sentences of death imposed upon the petitioners in these cases.”

Learn more at the Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/

Learn more: Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History (2002)

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!