Furman v. Georgia

Furman v. Georgia

408 U.S. 238 (1972)

Facts and Procedural History:

Petitioners (Furman, Jackson, and Branch-all black) were sentenced to death, one of them for murder, and two for rape in Georgia and Texas. Certiorari was granted to review decisions of the Supreme Court of Georgia, affirming the death penalty on defendants convicted of murder and rape, and the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, affirming death penalty for rape.

Issue Presented to the Court:

Would the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Outcome of the Case:

The Court held that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. There were nine separate opinions.

The Court reached this conclusion based on the evidence that the application of the penalty was unequal, often discretionary and haphazard. Some of the Justices in the majority noted that the death sentence has been disproportionately imposed and carried out on the poor, black, and the members of unpopular groups. The death penalty is unusual if it discriminates defendant by reason of his race, religion, wealth, social position, or class, or if it is imposed under a procedure that gives room for the play of such prejudices. The judgment in each case was therefore reversed insofar as it left undisturbed the death sentence imposed, and the cases were remanded for further proceedings.