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Tinkering Around the Edges: The Supreme Court's Death Penalty Jurisprudence

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 49 Issue: 4 Dated: Fall 2012 Pages: 1913-1943
John D. Bessler
Date Published
31 pages
The article discusses the changing opinions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to the use of the death penalty.
When the eighth amendment to the Constitution was first adopted in the United States, certain crimes required the use of mandatory death sentences. Since then however, laws and society's beliefs have changed in the belief that these actions are "unduly harsh and unworkably rigid." This article examines the changing opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court over the last 40 years as it has grappled with the question of the constitutionality of the death penalty. The author summarizes the cases that have come before the Court since the Court's ruling in Furman v. Georgia that held that death sentences, as then applied, were unconstitutional. The author examines cases to show how the Court has continued to interpret use of the death penalty, often in an incongruous manner, and allow States to enact new laws reinstating the death penalty as a means of punishment. The article begins with a discussion on the constitutionality of executions, and then examines eighth amendment case law as it has been used over the past 40 years, highlighting the inconsistent manner in which it has been applied. The third section of the article discusses society's current attitude towards the use of the death penalty, and the disparities found around the country to can result in the haphazard application of the law. The fourth section of the article discusses the attitudes towards use of the death penalty that were present at the time the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. Given society's current attitude towards the use of the death penalty, and the country's beliefs at the time the Nation was founded, the author argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should address the constitutionality of the death penalty and find its use unconstitutional.