Furman v. Georgia
In the above case, the U.S. Supreme Court found for the first time that the death penalty in this case was unconstitutional. The petitioner William Henry Furman was committing a burglary in a home when his weapon accidentally killed a resident therein. Georgia court convicted Furman for murder and awarded death sentence. Along with this, two other cases Jackson v Georgia and Branch v Texas that awarded death sentence for rape were decided by the Supreme Court on the question whether death sentence in these cases constituted cruel and unusual punishment violating Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgments of all the three cases holding that the death penalty awarded were unconstitutional as they were cruel and unusual. The Furman decision resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence in the United States until the decision in Gregg v Georgia in 1976. The Furman decision forced at least 37 States passed new death penalty laws addressing the U.S. Supreme Court’s concerns of the death penalty being awarded in an arbitrary manner. The Fourteenth amendment mandated due process and Eight Amendment prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. The decision resulted in annulment of 40 death penalty statutes and saved 600 convicts of the death penalty in 32 States. There were awarded life imprisonment instead and in some cases retrials were ordered. The decision considered the death penalty laws unconstitutional as they gave the jury unrestricted discretion to award death sentences. However, the death penalty is not abolished in the United States.
In Kennedy v. Louisiana , the petitioner faced the death penalty handed out by the Louisiana State Supreme Court for the aggravated rape of his then 8 year-old daughter since the state law allowed death penalty for the rape of a child under 12 even though the petitioner relied on Cocker v Georgia which barred capital punishment for the rape of an adult woman. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment did not allow death penalty for the rape of a child which did not end up in the death of the child nor was there any intention to result in death. The Louisiana state law permitting the death penalty for the rape of a child under 12 years was therefore, declared as unconstitutional.
In Ring v Arizona , the jury of the trial court sentenced the petitioner Timothy’s to life for the offense of murder but, the State Supreme Court enhanced it to a death penalty drawing the support from Walton v Arizona which affirmed the judge’s competency to enhance the sentence to death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the State Supreme court’s present judgment since the decision in Apprendi v New Jersey ruled that any increase of punishment beyond the statutory minimum should be confirmed by the jury. Otherwise, the defendant has to agree to the enhanced punishment.
In Atkins v Viginia , the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the lower court’s death sentence passed by the Jury disregarding the petitioner’s school records showing his mental retardation which it considered as mild. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Virginia because the state legislatures had become more lenient towards sentencing the persons of mental retardation since the decision in Penry v Lynaugh 1989.
Coker v Georgia , involved death sentence on the petitioner on a rape charge. The Georgia Supreme Court sentenced Cocker to death for having raped and kidnapped in her car after escaping from a jail, although he released the victim without any physical injuries. The Supreme Court of the U.S. reversed the judgment of the Georgia Supreme Court on the ground that capital punishment is an excessive punishment for the offense committed.
The instant case involves the murder of one of the police officers by the defendant Johnny (Snake) who shot and killed a police officer, while being encountered by the police officers in a bank robbery. It is not the case that the defendant is a mentally retarded person. Hence, there is no involvement of bar on Eighth amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment disproportionate to the crime committed by the defendant. It is also not the case that no due process has been followed attracting Fourteenth Amendment. The judge for whom this is the first death penalty case can safely impose the death penalty on the defendant Johnny (Snake) as there are no constitutional issues involved.
Cost- benefits analysis
The death penalty in the above case is justified in terms of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) since keeping the convict in prison for life without giving him the punishment of death he deserves would be a burden on the tax-payer. Further, if there is no threat of death to a person who commits a murder, the crime incidence will not abate. Cost of keeping a person alive and cost of killing a person if weighed against each, the latter would prevail in this case since the defendant is a repeat offender and therefore deserves no lenience nor would he reform himself. A cost-benefit analysis is a proven tool for justifying the death penalty. As the CBA suggests that life is being commodified, an alternative means of justification for a death penalty is to apply theories of retribution and utilitarianism which seek to reaffirm value of human life but at the same time lend support for capital punishment. Retributive justice seeks to remedy the pain to the society that the crime produces, by imposing death penalty.
Atkins v Virginia, 536 U S 304 (U S Supreme Court June 20, 2002).
Bohm, R. M. (2014). DeathQuest: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in the United States. Routledge .
Coker v Georgia , 433 U.S. 584 (U.S.Supreme Court June 29, 1977).
Furman v. Georgia , 408 U.S. 238 June 29, 1972. , 408 U.S. 238 (US Supreme Court June 29, 1972).
Kennedy v. Louisiana , 554 U.S. (US Supreme Court June 25, 2008).
Manji, R. (2006). Cost-Benefit Analysis, the Death Penalty, and. Knoxville: Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange, University of Tennessee .
Ring v Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (U.S. Supreme Court June 24, 2002).