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Capital Punishment/Death Penalty - Essay Example

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In Furman, Justice Brennan writes: "When an unusually severe punishment is authorized for wide-scale application but not, because of society's refusal, inflicted save in a few instances, the inference is compelling that there is a deep reluctance to inflict it…
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Capital Punishment/Death Penalty
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Download file to see previous pages Public opinion regarding the death penalty has been a controversial subject for many decades. The public's attitude towards the matter seems to depend upon the question that is asked as much as what they actually feel about the death penalty. Thus if given the choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the public tends to choose life sentences. If asked merely whether they support the death penalty - with no other choices - they support it. It should be seen that a "reluctance" on the part of society to use the death penalty, or a happiness with it, is more difficult than Justices on either side of the death penalty would admit.
The background to the Furman decision is important to understanding the context in which Brennan's comments need to be considered. The case of Furman v. Georgia occurred after a burglar, William Henry Furman was interrupted while inside a house by its owner. As he was trying to escape Furman tripped and fell, and the gun he was carrying accidentally fired. One of the residents was shot and killed and Furman was convicted of murder. Subsequently he was sentenced to death.
The case of Furman v. ...
For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed. My concurring Brothers have demonstrated that, if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to death, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race. See McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964) But racial discrimination has not been proved, and I put it to one side. I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."
(Stewart, 1972)
This was the Majority's opinion, but Justices Brennan and Marshall went even further, suggesting that the death penalty was incompatible with evolving standards of decency within society. Ironically, the very fact that the death penalty was being imposed "wantonly" and "freakishly" was used as proof by both of these justices that in fact society was evolving beyond the death penalty. The central point of Brennan's argument is that the death penalty is only allowed by society because it was so rarely imposed and even more rarely carried out. This rarity made it capricious in nature and would, had it been needed, have also been contrary to the ideas of equal treatment under the law.
One argument that can be made regarding the public's attitude towards the death penalty is that the enormously long appeals process that, while it has been shortened somewhat, still actually exists in most states, shows the public, through its representatives, have put in a place ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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