Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Still arbitrary

Victims' families are among those gathering in front of the U.S. Supreme Court today for the start of the 17th annual four-day Starvin' for Justice Fast & Vigil. The vigil begins today on the anniversary of the Court's 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, which found that the death penalty was applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner, forcing many states to re-write their statutes.

Here's a summary of Furman from the Death Penalty Information Center:

"In 1972, the Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as applied violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Due to a lack of standards for imposing the death penalty, the Court ruled that the death penalty was being applied arbitrarily and capriciously."

DPIC quotes from Justice Potter Stewart's concurring opinion:

"These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed."

In the section of its website that discusses the arbitrariness of the death penalty, DPIC goes on to comment,

"Three decades after sentencing guidelines were approved by the Court in Gregg, the death penalty is still being unpredictably applied to a small number of defendants. There remains a lack of uniformity in the capital punishment system. Some of the most heinous murders do not result in death sentences, while less heinous crimes are punished by death."

It's worth reading the rest of DPIC's information on abitrariness. And for anyone who is feeling especially historically inclined today, here is the full text of the Furman decision.

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