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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 77083 Find in a Library
Title: Constitutionality of the Mandatory Death Penalty for Life-term Prisoners Who Murder
Journal: New York University Law Review  Volume:55  Issue:4  Dated:(October 1980)  Pages:636-670
Author(s): D S Frankel
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 35
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This note discusses the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty for life-term prisoners convicted of first degree murder in terms of the Supreme Court rulings in Furman v. Georgia (1972) and Gregg v. Georgia (1976).
Abstract: In Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court invalidated several State death penalty statutes in a manner that cast doubt upon the constitutionality of the death penalty generally as it was then applied. In the years following that decision, a number of States enacted new death penalty legislation, and the Court reconsidered the constitutionality of the death penalty in its 1976 holding in Gregg v. Georgia. The Gregg decision and other 1976 cases focusing on the same issue represented the Court's first attempt to clarify Furman and to give substance to its prohibition against arbitrary and capricious death sentencing. The opinion articulated the elements of the test to determine whether a penalty is cruel and unusual in violation of the eighth amendment. The Court's recognition of the uniqueness of death as a punishment compels careful consideration of its imposition on each individual defendant. Under the ruling, a sentencer must be permitted to evaluate the specific circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime as well as the character and record of the defendant. Further, such an evaluation must meet the heightened reliability standard that reflects the death penalty's difference from other penalties; sentencing juries may not reach their conclusions without guidance as they were permitted to do before the Furman ruling. The article suggests that a mandatory death penalty for convicted life-term prisoners invites reemergence of pre-Furman arbitrariness. The automatic imposition of the penalty precludes the expansive postconviction sentencing examination endorsed in Gregg. The Court has emphasized repeatedly that differences among defendants and crimes must be exposed and considered for death sentencing purposes. A mandatory death penalty increases the likelihood that such differences will be concealed. Because juries may sense this element of concealment, the mandatory death penalty necessarily perpetuates unreliability in the guilt determination. Therefore, the mandatory death penalty for life-term prisoners convicted of first degree murder should be declared unconstitutional. The note provides 197 footnotes. (Author abstract modified).
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Constitutional Rights/Civil Liberties; Cruel and unusual punishment; Judicial decisions; Life sentences; Mandatory Sentencing; Murder; State laws; US Supreme Court
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