Playing to the Gallery Public Opinion as a Factor in Death Penalty Court Decisions particularly Furman v Georgia

Consequently, more than 600 convicted inmates had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. As the Supreme Court did not say that the death penalty law was unconstitutional, only that it was random in its application – and in the Furman case, would result in the killing of a mentally-challenged man – states interpreted this to mean that they could rewrite their death penalty statute so as to incorporate a set of definite and reasonable standards for courts to follow. Consequently, in 1976, these new laws were tested in the case of Gregg v. Georgia and the Supreme Court held that these laws were no longer infirm.

Asserts Brennan, And it is our society that insists upon due process of law to the end that no person will be unjustly put to death, thus ensuring that many more of those sentences will not be carried out. In sum, we have made death a rare punishment today.

What Brennan appears to be stating is that a reason for considering the death penalty as arbitrary and capricious is because it is so widely rejected by the people that it has fallen into disuse as a penalty in the criminal justice system. Two things may be inferred from Brennan’s statement. First is that public opinion is a valid determinant of the merit or demerit of a particular policy or proposal, and second, that public opinion indeed reflects an aversion to capital punishment.

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