Gregg v. Georgia: Death penalty is okay again!

After a moratorium on executions in the U.S. from the Furman v. Georgia (1972) ruling, which suspended executions in the U.S. because of the “arbitrary, capricious and wonton nature” of its administration, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty again in the case of Gregg v. Georgia (1976). In this case the U.S. Supreme Court focused on capital-sentencing structure of Georgia, holding that the new Georgia system provided guidance to jurors and appellate review. In this case, the SCOTUS asked, “Is the death penalty in America ‘cruel and unusual’?” and in a 7-2 ruling, held that the death penalty is not unconstitutional (“cruel and unusual”) as long as the Georgia criminal justice system provided guidance to jurors and appellate review, procedures to remedy the arbitrariness of the death penalty administration. Following the ruling, states began administering the death penalty again.

The most immediate implication of Gregg v. Georgia is that the death penalty is constitutional, not “cruel and unusual,” as long as its not administered in an arbitrary manner. Since Gregg v. Georgia, over 1000 condemned prisoners have been executed, and currently 3400 convicts sit on death row in America. Since the ruling, statistics now show that the death penalty does not deter and the death penalty does not serve as a form of retribution for the victims’ families, directly contradicting the reasoning of the majority opinion. Finally, the proportion of non-whites to white on death row has actually risen from 50% in pre-Furman years to approximately 54% today, implying that the system may still be racially biased.

In short, while the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia may have determined the death penalty to be constitutional because of state procedural safeguards to protect individuals against arbitrary administration, social scientific data and personal testimony suggest that the death penalty does not deter crime, does not server as retribution or closure for the victims’ families, and is still class and race biased, suggesting arbitrary administration.

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