The Fickle-Finger of SCOTUS – WABAC to the Death Penalty

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Let’s go back to June 29, 1972 and watch the Judicial Branch of the United States government in action on a matter of life and death, Sherman My Boy.”


U.S. Supreme Court Rules

Death Penalty Unconstitutional


A Legal Brief

On June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States stunned the nation by ruling in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty violated the 8th and 14th Amendments.  This decision basically outlawed capital punishment until each state that wanted to reinstate it reworked their laws and procedures to meet Supreme Court guidelines.

The law of the land…

It seems that over 200 years of previous experience had not perfected the procedure.  The court found judicial practices so arbitrary and inconsistent that a grossly uneven administration of capital punishment was the result.  So much so, that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

In wake of their ruling, those convicts on death row awaiting execution were given a reprieve since they had been sentenced under a system found to be unconstitutional.  Even Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Robert F. Kennedy, was spared.

Over the next few years, 37 states rewrote their capital punishment laws and procedures, and by 1976, those stated had re-entered the legal people-killing business.  Currently, 31 states still maintain capital punishment, although vigorous campaigns have been mounted to make all forms of execution illegal in the United States.

Greater impetus for the movement to ban capital punishment is partially the result of botched executions, where the condemned was seen by witnesses to be writhing in pain for extended lengths of time.  Drug companies have also been refusing to sell the drugs used for lethal injection to those states that use that form of capital punishment, which has created a whole new set of problems as new concoctions are being formulated to efficiently kill the condemned.

Medical and scientific advancements in DNA have brought to light that some executed criminals were innocent after all.   This sad fact together with the many non-death penalty cases that have been overturned as a result of DNA analysis have cast a dark shadow on the U.S. legal (we will not call it “justice”) system.

Accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, police misconduct and mistaken or purposely misleading testimony by “experts” have also created serious doubts about the fairness (or lack thereof) in death penalty cases.  Even people who have no moral objection to killing people convicted of heinous crimes are now troubled by the specter of all too frequent mistakes and miscarriages of justice.  In Nebraska, for example, the state legislature overrode the veto of the governor and outlawed capital punishment in that otherwise conservative state.

The Fickle-Finger of SCOTUS

– WABAC to the Death Penalty