Criminal Justice

Furman v GA

Gregg v GA

Herrera v Texas

Tison v AZ


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Furman v. Georgia
● Supreme Court of Georgia
● 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
Nature of Case
William Henry Furman was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He then sued the
state of Georgia for “Cruel and Unusual” punishment under
William Henry Furman was in the middle of burglarizing someone’s home when they awoke and
caught him. In his original statement to the police, he claimed that he fired a shot blindly while
running out. In his unsworn statement however, he stated that he tripped while fleeing and his
gun discharged accidentally, killing the resident as a result. Furman received the death penalty
for killing the resident.. The supreme court of Georgia ruled in a 5-4 decision, that the imposition
of the death penalty in these cases constituted cruel A :#and unusual punishment and violated
the eighth and fourteenth amendment of the Constitution. This ruling was also used to decide the
cases of Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas, which dealt with capital punishment for rape
and murder convictions.
Does the imposition of the death penalty in the cases of Furman v. Gerogia Does the imposition
of the death penalty in the case of Furman v. Georgia constitute ‘Cruel and Unusual’
Yes (5 yes – 4 no)
Reasons for Holding
While 5 judges ruled yes, their reasoning was different.
Potter Stewart’s opinion was that the death penalty should be rarely imposed for cruel cases. In
these cases, there wasn’t enough justification to warrant the death penalty.
Byron White’s opinion was that the death penalty when imposed, did not act as enough of a
deterrent for similar crimes. He argued that the penalty is used so inconsistently that it doesn’t
make a difference. If there was a mandatory death penalty for certain crimes to act as a deterrant,
then the penalty would be permissible.
William o Douglas’s ruling was that the death penalty and how inconsistently it is used interferes
too much with the equal protection concepts in the eighth amendment. His opinion was that there
were too many opportunities for juries and judges to decide who lives and who dies based on
reasons not related to the case, such as race, gender, or class status.
William Brennan ruled that the death penalty did not align with human dignity, and therefore
constitutes as cruel and unusual.
Thurgood Marshall argued that in a maturing society, you should not consult past cases for a
ruling since what was considered okay then, may be considered cruel and unusual by today’s
Dissent (if any)
Warren Burger argued that the definition of the word cruel should be decided by the changing
society. The people who drafted the constitution would not have thought of the death penalty as
cruel, but today’s society would. Therefore the courts should look to the legislatures for when a
decision like this is needed.
Harry Blackmun states that at a legislative, congressional, and supreme court level, the death
penalty is favored and it’s not the job of the court to insert their personal opinion.
Lewis F Powell’s opinion is that an opinion on this matter should be left up to the state and
federal legislative bodies. He does not agree with the majority’s decision to assume that society
considers capital punishment cruel and unusual.
William H Rehnquist believed that the court’s should not have been left to decide on this ruling,
however it should be the job of judicial review.
Rule of Law
The imposition of the death penalty constitutes as cruel and unusual treatment under the eighth
and fourteenth amendment.
Do you think that capital punishment is considered cruel and unusual punishment under the
eighth and fourteenth amendment? Explain.
If you consider it cruel and unusual, what other forms of punishment could replace capital
If you don’t consider it cruel and unusual, what circumstances justify the death penalty?

Gregg v. GA.
o U.S. Supreme Court

o 428 U.S. 153 (1976)


Troy Gregg was convicted in the state of Georgia of two counts of armed robbery

and two counts of murder. The case revolves around the penalty stage of that trial. The

jury was instructed that it must decide between the penalty of life in prison, or death for

each count. In order to consider the death penalty option, the jury had to find the

existence of three aggravating conditions beyond a reasonable doubt. First, did the

offender commit the murder while engaging in a separate felony crime (in this case

robbery). Second, did the offender do so in order to take the victim’s property. Third,

was the murder “outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman” in that it

“involved the depravity of the mind of the defendant.” The jury returned a death

sentence based on the first two conditions. When the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed

the case, they upheld the sentence on the murder, but not the robbery convictions as

there was little precedent in Georgia for imposing the death penalty in similar cases.

The Gregg case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Nature of the Case:

Gregg challenged the death penalty sentence as a cruel and unusual

punishment under the Eighth and the Fourteenth amendments. The case appealed to

previous precedent set in 1972 by Furman v. Georgia, which resulted in an effective

moratorium on the death penalty based on an argument of inconsistent and arbitrary

application. Five states, including Georgia, amended existing death penalty statutes to

impose narrower restrictions on the power of juries to unilaterally approve or reject a

death sentence. Gregg argued that the death penalty itself was unconstitutional,

regardless of the process by which it was applied; a major step beyond the Furman

decision. The state argued that the amended statute, requiring juries to use discretion

based on the principles of aggravating conditions, did not necessarily jeopardize basic

human dignity or constitute a form of excessive or cruel punishment.


Is the death penalty a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the

Eighth and Fourteenth amendments? Does the death penalty deter or fail to deter

crime? Is it inherently contrary to human dignity?


No. 7 for, 2 against.

Reason for Holding:

There is affirmative public consensus when it comes to retaining the death

penalty. There are extreme cases severe enough to merit capital punishment. The court

decided that Georgia’s amended statute, which required a jury to consider the nature of

the crime and the characteristics of the defendant, provided a sufficient form of review

of the sentencing authority and did not violate the constitution. The court could not make

a determination as to whether the death penalty reduced instances of crime and

deferred judgement to the state legislature in determining its utility. As Gregg’s case

consisted of both a separate trial and penalty phase, the claim of capricious or arbitrary

sentencing could be invalidated. The court ruled that Georgia’s process was sufficiently

prudent and careful. In addition, the court ruled that the appellate review of death

penalty cases was mandatory in all states.

Rule of Law:

The death penalty does not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments

under all circumstances.


Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan dissent. Justice Marshall felt

that if citizens had all of the facts regarding the death penalty, they would be shocked,

finding it morally unjust. Marshall claimed that a sentence of life imprisonment was

equally effective, and that retribution was not a sufficient warrant for excessive

punishment. Marshall cited the Erlich study, which indicated no deterrent effect from the

risk of execution. Justice Brennan reasoned that the court had based its ruling on the

procedures a state used to impose the death penalty rather than the inherent nature of

the death penalty itself. Justice Brennan felt the court should be more progressive, with

the cruel and unusual punishment clause interpreted in a more progressive context

consistent with the morally tolerable principles of a society moving away from degrading

punishment which does not recognize inherent human dignity. Execution is final in the

sense that the person loses all rights.

Philosophical Questions:

What are the advantages or disadvantages of the death penalty over life

Is putting someone to death justified by deterrence, if its effectiveness could be

Are there cases in which keeping someone accused of extreme crimes alive can be
beneficial from the perspective of criminological, or psychological study?

Herrera v. Collins
506 US 390 (1993)
Facts: Texas police officers Enrique Carrisalez and David Rucker were both fatally shot on
September 29th, 1981 by an unknown suspect within a window of minutes between each other.
The shootings occurred in rural Texas, near the Mexico border. A man named Enrique
Hernandez was going on a ride-along with officer Carrisalez that day and was in the officer’s
squad car when Carrisalez was shot. A statewide search was conducted as a result of the
shootings, and police officers found and arrested a man named Leonel Herrera on October 4th,
1981, near Edinburg, Texas. Herrera was taken into police custody and transported to the station.
A physical altercation ensued while Herrera was at the station, during which Herrera struck a
police officer. Herrera’s defense counsel arrived several hours after the altercation, only to find
Herrera unconscious, severely beaten, and partially paralyzed.
After officers searched the residence of Herrera, multiple pieces of evidence were obtained
implicating him in the murders of both Texas police officers. The vehicle that officer Carrisalez
pulled over before he was shot was registered under the name of Herrera’s current girlfriend,
with whom he was living. A set of car keys belonging to that vehicle were found on Herrera
upon his arrest. In addition, Type A blood was found on a pair of pants in Herrera’s home, along
with bloodstains on his wallet. Finally, a written letter found on Herrera’s person upon his arrest
seemingly featured his confession to both murders.
Despite Enrique Hernandez being present in the squad car and being an eyewitness to the murder
of Officer Carrisalez, Hernandez was unable to identify Herrera in a 6-pack photo lineup.
Hernandez was later able to identify Herrera as the shooter after being presented with his mug
shot. Leonel Herrera was subsequently convicted of the murder of Officer Carrisalez and pleaded
guilty to the murder of Officer Rucker.
Nature of Case:
Herrera petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, citing the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments,
under his claim of actual innocence. The trial court subsequently denied relief. Herrera then filed
a separate petition, this time presenting an affidavit from the supposed murder’s son, who
allegedly witnessed the killings. The district court dismissed Herreras claims but decided to grant
a stay of execution. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the stay of execution, seemingly in
agreement with the trial court that Herreras claim of innocence was not relevant to the petition
Does Herrera’s claim of actual innocence, without a constitutional violation, entitle him to
federal habeas corpus relief under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
No (6 votes against, 3 votes for).
Reasons for Holding
Herreras claim of actual innocence was not, by itself, relevant to his actual petition for a writ of
habeas corpus. Without evidence of a constitutional violation by the state of Texas, the claim of
innocence itself was not sufficient to warrant a writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice Rehnquist
maintained that the rule itself was based upon the principle that the federal habeas courts existed
to ensure that people are not imprisoned unconstitutionally. Herrera’s claim pertained to the
outcome of the trial, mainly that he was convicted despite being innocent. The writ of habeas
corpus itself exists in order to address conditional violations, not simply matters of facts.
Dissent (if any)
Justice Blackmun was joined by Justice Stevens and Justice Souter in the dissent. Blackmun’s
primary concern was with the aspect of executing an innocent person in and of itself. Blackmun
maintained that Herrera’s relief should have been granted if he was able to provide evidence that
would give reasonable doubt of his guilt and that he was in fact actually innocent.
Rule of Law:
Claims of actual innocence are not, by themselves, sufficient to warrant a writ of habeas corpus.
A true conditional violation, or evidence thereof, is necessary in order to grant relief.
1.) Do you believe claims of actual innocence are sufficient to warrant a writ of habeas
a.) If yes, what do you think would be the remedy for, or prevent every convicted
induvial of claiming actual innocence in order to get relief?
2.) Do you believe that wrongful incarcerations should be violations of the 8th amendment,
in that, they are “cruel and unusual”?

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