Tags: Criminal law, Death penalty
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The case of Gregg v. Georgia dealt with the constitutionality of the death penalty for murder under Georgia law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty for murder under Georgia law. The Georgia statutory scheme for the death penalty retains it for six categories of crime, and the sentencing procedures are essentially the same for both bench and jury trials. In capital cases, additional evidence related to punishment is considered, including prior criminal convictions and pleas. Mitigating and aggravating circumstances must be considered, and the death penalty can only be imposed if one of the 10 statutory aggravating circumstances is found beyond a reasonable doubt. The Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is not limited to methods that were considered barbarous in the 18th century and can acquire new meaning as society evolves. The focus in early Eighth Amendment cases was on specific methods of execution, not the death penalty itself. The Eighth Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency in society, but requires an objective look at public attitudes towards a given sanction. The death penalty for murder is not automatically unconstitutional, but must not be imposed arbitrarily or capriciously. Juries play an important role in maintaining a link between community values and the penal system, and the death penalty serves two principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence of capital crimes. A bifurcated procedure, where the question of sentence is not considered until the determination of guilt has been made, is suggested as the best solution. Georgia narrowed the class of murderers subject to capital punishment by specifying 10 statutory aggravating circumstances, one of which must be found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt before a death sentence can be imposed.
Georgia's capital-sentencing procedures require consideration of specific circumstances before recommending a sentence, which is reviewed by the State's Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court reviews every death sentence for proportionality and to ensure it was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor. Georgia law allows for the death penalty to be imposed for murder if the jury finds at least one of eight aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Troy Gregg was convicted of murder and robbery and sentenced to death, but the Georgia Supreme Court vacated the death sentences for the robbery counts as they were excessive and disproportionate to penalties in similar cases. The court found that Georgia's new legislative scheme for the death penalty is consistent with the Furman v. Georgia decision and that the Georgia Supreme Court has the power and obligation to ensure that the death penalty is not being administered in a discriminatory, standardless, or rare fashion. Justices Brennan and Marshall argue that the death penalty is unconstitutional and a cruel and unusual punishment, while the Solicitor General's argument that the death penalty deters murder is based on a study that has been criticized for its methodology and may not actually exist.
The Ehrlich study on capital punishment is unreliable, recent evidence shows it's unnecessary, and the death penalty is morally questionable and violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The lower court's decision to uphold the death sentences is erroneous.
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