Furman v. Georgia

By: Hunter Tufts

When did this case occur

This case was from January 17, 1972 to June 29, 1972 when the final verdict was made.

What was the issue at hand

A man convicted of murder in Georgia and two other men where convicted of rape, one in Georgia and the other in Texas, all three received the death penalty. All the men where African Americans and the rape victims where both white women. The men petitioned for certiorari questioning if the death penalty was a cruel and unusual punishment. The men used the eighth amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) and the fourteenth amendment (everyone is equal and shall be treated as so) saying the death penalty was violating these amendments.

Details of the case

Chief Justice Burger, Justice Douglas, Justice Brennan, Justice Stewart, Justice White, Justice Marshall, Justice Blackmun, Justice Powell, and Justice Rhenquist presided over the case. In each of the three cases the decision to have the death penalty or a lighter punishment was left to a judge or a jury. All the cases where Trial Jury cases. In the brief the judges talk about the meaning of the death penalty and the before mentioned amendments. Justice Douglas said, "it was cruel or unusual to apply the death penalty to the minority races". Justice Douglas also said that, "the meaning of cruel and unusual punishment can change over time". Justice Brennan said that, "death is a cruel and unusual punishment. There is no method that shows it is immediate and painless death". Brennan also said that, "the constitution is meant to keep people safe from mob mentality". "The eighth amendment is one of the hardest most difficult law to interpret", said Chief Justice Burger. Burger also said that, "at the time the eighth amendment was adopted capital punishment was not cruel and unusual. The opening line of the fifth amendment says that the death penalty not be imposed unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury."


The verdict was yes that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. The vote was not unanimous. The end result was five for yes and four for no. This decision made it required to have a degree of consistency in the death penalty application.