Subversive Historian – 06/29/09

Death Penalty Ruled Cruel and Unusual

Back in the day on June 29th, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. By a narrow 5-4 vote, Justices reviewing the case of Furman v. Georgia decided that state and federal executions were “cruel and unusual” forms of punishment in violation of the eighth amendment. The landmark ruling, which was the first ever against the death penalty system, further stated that executions had been carried out under an arbitrary, discriminatory and capricious manner. Justice Douglas wrote in his concurrence that capital punishment “is an unequal punishment in the way it is applied to the rich and to the poor. The defendant of wealth and position never goes to the electric chair or to the gallows.” As a result of the ruling, 629 death row inmates had their sentences commissioned.

However, the Supreme Court also suggested that if rewritten, death penalty statutes could be considered constitutional and that’s just what states did. Four years later, the High Court reinstated the death penalty and murder by the state continues to this day.

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