3The 8th Amendment, the Death Penalty, and Current Issues Justice or “cruel and unusual punishment”?
4The 8th Amendment to the Constitution “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”While what might be considered “excessive” bail or fines might be open to interpretation, most of the attention focused on the 8th amendment has to do with whether a punishment given to an accused or convicted person is “cruel and unusual”.
5The Death PenaltyMost of the historical controversy surrounding the interpretation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th amendment dealt with whether the use of the death penalty is constitutional.The Supreme Court has issued several rulings that have shaped the use of the death penalty, but has not gone so far as to outlaw it…Before we look at the Court’s opinions in this area, let’s take a look at the current state of affairs regarding the DP in the United States
6Current Statistics on the Death Penalty Nearly every state in the country has the option of executing criminalsPA does have the option of execution for murder under 18 “aggravating” circumstancesCircumstances that make the crime “especially bad”There were 52 executions in 2009; which state do you believe executed the most convicted criminals in 2009?
12Significant Cases Dealing with the Death Penalty Furman vs. Georgia: (1972) Death penalty as applied was unfair/unconstitutionalPunishment (death penalty) is “cruel and unusual” when it is “too severe for the crime, if it is arbitrary, if it offends society's sense of justice, or it if is not more effective than a less severe penalty”.Forces states to change the way that they assign the death penalty to convictsBut DID NOT rule the use of the death penalty itself unconstitutionalStates were forced to change the procedures for instituting the death penalty if they wanted to continue to use it.
13Significant Cases Dealing with the Death Penalty Gregg vs. Georgia: (1976) Court rules that DP, under adequate guidelines, is constitutional.If mitigating (lessening) or aggravating (worsening) factors are taken into account, the DP can be usedWhen there is a separate trial for guilt and punishment (bifurcated trials), the DP can be usedWhen states provide for automatic appeals of the decisions, the DP can be used
14Modern Challenges to the Death Penalty Most of the current/recent court cases that concern the 8th amendment deal with the type of execution or the crimes whereby a person is eligible to be executed.For example, the SC is currently hearing cases dealing with these issues:Whether the process of lethal injection (including the actual chemicals used) is unconstitutionalWhether certain severe crimes against minors (but not murder) are punishable by deathWhether a jury was truly representative in a death penalty case
15The Future of the 8th Amendment Since the Court’s opinion on the constitutionality of the DP seems to be relatively stable and “decided”, more specific questions about the death penalty have been coming before the Court…
16Baze and Bowling vs. Rees (2008) Facts of the CaseTwo Kentucky inmates challenged the state's four-drug lethal injection protocol. The lethal injection method calls for the administration of four drugs:Valium, which relaxes the convict, Sodium Pentathol, which knocks the convict unconscious, Pavulon, which stops his breathing, and potassium chloride, which essentially puts the convict into cardiac arrest and ultimately causes death.The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the death penalty system did not amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.QuestionIs the use of a four-drug lethal injection process to carry out death sentences a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment?
17The DecisionIn a 7-2 decision with four concurrences and a dissent, the Court held that Kentucky's lethal injection scheme did not violate the Eighth Amendment.Noting that the inmates had conceded the "humane nature" of the procedure when performed correctly, the divided Court ruled the inmates had failed to prove that incorrect administration of the drugs would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.However, the Court also suggested that a state may violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment if it continues to use a method without sufficient justification in the face of superior alternative procedures.
18Roper vs. Simmons Facts of Case This case, in Missouri, involved Simmons, who, in 1993 at the age of 17, concocted a plan to murder Shirley Crook, bringing two younger friends, Charles Benjamin and John Tessmer, into the plot.The plan was to commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up the victim, and tossing the victim off a bridge.The three met in the middle of the night, broke into Mrs. Crook's home, bound her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge. Simmons was sentenced to death in 1993, when he was only 17.Question Presented:Does the execution of a minor, or someone convicted of a crime while a minor, violate the 8th amendment?
19Roper vs. Simmons The Decision: Question Presented: Does the execution of a minor, or someone convicted of a crime while a minor, violate the 8th amendment?The Decision:Yes. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court ruled that standards of decency have evolved so that executing minors is "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.The majority cited a consensus against the juvenile death penalty among state legislatures, and its own determination that the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for minors.Finally the Court pointed to "overwhelming" international opinion against the juvenile death penalty.
20Graham vs. FloridaQuestion Presented:Does the imposition of a life sentence without parole for juveniles convicted of a non-homicidal offense violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment?"Conclusion: In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court held that the Eight Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a non-homicidal crime.The Court made a point to note that life sentences for juveniles for non-homicidal crimes has been "rejected the world over.”