Furman v. Georgia (1972)

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Furman v. Georgia (1972) is a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment in death penalty cases. In this case, petitioner William Henry Furman was convicted of murder in Georgia; petitioner Lucious Jackson was convicted of rape in Georgia, and petitioner Hamilton Branch was convicted of rape in Texas. All three were sentenced to death in their respective cases.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari limited to one question: whether imposing and carrying out the death penalty–in these cases–violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as applied to the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that it would, finding that the death penalty was unconstitutional when applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner. The Court found that the death penalty was applied in a manner that disproportionately harmed minorities and the poor. In concurring opinions, Justices Brennan and Marshall argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional under any circumstance, as less severe punishments would serve the same punitive goals.

Following this decision, the use of the death penalty was put on hold while states revised criminal statutes to ensure the death penalty was not applied arbitrarily or discriminatorily. The death penalty was then reinstated after the 1976 case of Gregg v. Georgia.

[Last updated in December of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]