Coker v. Georgia

Coker v. Georgia

433 U.S. 584 (1977)

Facts and Procedural History:

While serving various sentences for murder, rape, kidnapping, and aggravated assault, petitioner escaped from a Georgia prison and, in the course of committing an armed robbery and other offenses, raped an adult woman. He was convicted of rape, armed robbery, and the other offenses and sentenced to death on the rape charge. The jury found two of the aggravating circumstances present for imposing such a sentence, that the rape was committed (1) by a person with prior capital-felony convictions and (2) in the course of committing another capital felony, armed robbery. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed both the conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme court granted certiorari.

Issue Presented to the Court:

Is death is a disproportionate penalty for rape of an adult?

Outcome of the Case:

The Eighth Amendment also bars those punishments which are “excessive” and disproportionate to the severity of a crime. The Court held that rape without doubt deserves serious punishment. But in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, it does not compare with murder, which does involve the unjustified taking of human life.

The disproportionality of the death penalty for rape is supported by the general attitude of state legislatures and sentencing juries concerning the acceptability of such a penalty, and the fact that Georgia was at that moment the only State authorizing the death sentence for rape of an adult woman.