An Evolving View of Capital Punishment

Monday, April 14, 2008

Kennedy v. Louisiana provides a new opportunity for the court to interpret the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which states: " Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."


The court decided that the amendment is not static but "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles.


In reinstating the death penalty, the court said capital punishment for murderers was not an automatic violation of the Eighth Amendment but reserved judgment about its application to other crimes. Gregg v. Georgia.


Justices said imposing the death penalty for the rape of an adult woman was unconstitutional. "The murderer kills; the rapist, if no more than that, does not. Life is over for the victim of the murderer; for the rape victim, life may not be nearly so happy as it was, but it is not over and normally is not beyond all repair." Coker v. Georgia.


Relying on "legislatures that have recently addressed the matter" and its own independent evaluation, the court reversed an earlier ruling and concluded that capital punishment is unconstitutional for the mentally retarded. Atkins v. Virginia.


The court noted a "trend toward abolition of the juvenile death penalty," and found a "majority of states have rejected the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18, and we now hold this is required by the Eighth Amendment." Roper v. Simmons.

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