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Temporary Abolition of the Death Penalty

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

The death penalty has been at the center of controversy throughout the country's history. Multiple death penalty challenges attempting to eliminate its use have been mounted at various times. The most successful of these attempts resulted in a four year ban on death penalties throughout the United States. This temporary abolition of the death penalty is not permanent and states are trying to re-instate it.

Continue reading to learn more about the temporary ban and the controversy surrounding the imposition of capital punishment.

Death Penalty Ban

The issue of the arbitrariness of capital punishment was brought before the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, Jackson v. Georgia, and Branch v. Texas (known collectively as the landmark case Furman v. Georgia). Furman was based on a finding that capital cases resulted in arbitrary and capricious sentencing and was grounded in the Eighth Amendment. With the Furman decision the Supreme Court set the standard that a punishment would be "cruel and unusual" if it were too severe for the crime, if it were arbitrary, if it offended society's sense of justice, or it if were not more effective than a less severe penalty.

In nine separate opinions, and by a vote of 5-4, the Court held that Georgia's death penalty statute, which gave the jury full discretion in sentencing, could result in arbitrary sentencing. The Court maintained that the scheme of punishment under the statute was thus "cruel and unusual" and violated the Eighth Amendment. As a result, the Supreme Court voided forty death penalty statutes on June 29, 1972, thereby commuting the sentences of 629 death row inmates in the United States and making a temporary abolition of the death penalty because existing state statutes were no longer valid.

Return Of The Death Penalty

Georgia was again at the center of death penalty controversy with another group of cases heard as Supreme Court case of Gregg v. Georgia. In Gregg, the Supreme Court established two basic requirements intended to insure that the death penalty would not be found to be cruel and unusual punishment.

  1. Capital sentencing must be based upon objective criteria to direct and limit the exercise of discretion; and
  2. The adjudicator must take into account the character and record of the individual defendant.

Since the Gregg decision, states have been able to reinstate the death penalty, provided their procedures meet these two requirements, both of which must also be reviewable on appeal. However, cases have continued to develop these requirements since Gregg. For example, in Ring v. Arizona the Supreme Court addressed the aggravating factors necessary to impose the death penalty.

Gregg remains an important decision, however, and in its wake 37 states enacted new death penalty laws that attempted to comply with the case's requirements, including the increasingly common procedure of conducting separate trials for the guilt of the underlying case and the decision to apply the death penalty.

Facing the Death Penalty or Another Form of Punishment? Get Legal Help

The death penalty is the most severe of punishments, but that doesn't mean that a prison term isn't also something to be concerned about. If you're facing a serious charge and have questions about the penalties you could be facing, you should contact an experienced local criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and begin planning your defense today.

Next Steps

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