Is Death Cruel and Unusual Punishment? 1972

The mandatory sentence for murder when the Bill of Rights was ratified was death. At the time, no one questioned if the death sentence constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Since then, several movements emerged to end capital punishment in the United States.

Death penalty opponents had a short-lived victory in 1972. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Furman v Georgia that the way capital punishment laws were written constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.’’ That judgment effectively ended capital punishment until the Court heard a case in 1976 called Gregg v. Georgia. The Court upheld Georgia’s new death sentencing law, ruling that the death penalty itself wasn’t unconstitutional if it was applied fairly and consistently.