Late last month, we published a list of Supreme Court precedent over at JD Supra, in a .pdf format (Terry Lenamon’s List of Major United States Supreme Court Death Penalty Cases:Furman v. Georgia (1972) to Harbison v. Bell (2009)).
Suddenly, over at Twitter, my fellow Tweeters @Joachim65 (aka Joachim Kubler of Germany, blogging at Todesstrafe USA (use GoogleTranslate!)) and @TheOptimistClub (founded by Kathy Brown, blogging at The Optimist Club) had already found the list, and were spreading the word in the Twitter Universe. @OdellaWilson was giving @TerryLenamon praise (wow) and things were getting Retweeted … which was all very amazing and complimentary and wonderful.
So, looks like this list may be helpful, right? Good! Here it is again, placed here in the blog, where it’s searchable and NOT in a .pdf format, however helpful that might be. For instance, the links to the full opinions show up in the .pdf format, but maybe they are easier to use in the blog site (maybe?).
For a full search on all things death penalty by the U.S. Supreme Court (or any other topic, for that matter), Cornell University provides a great search tool with its online library. Cases are even divided into majority opinion vs dissents, etc. Very handy.
Now, here’s the list. Caveat: it’s not every case where the High Court deals with capital punishment, nor is it the only list that deals with US Supreme Court cases on the death penalty. What is hopefully helpful here is that this list: (1) culls out the overturned cases and (2) provides the links to the full opinions so you can jump there to read the case itself.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court effectively halted the death penalty in this country with its opinion in Furman v. Georgia. However, the moratorium was short-lived and four years later, the government was again free to kill its citizens as punishment for certain crimes.
For easy reference, here are the major High Court’s decisions dealing with the death penalty from Furman forward (excluding those that have been overruled by later precedent), hyperlinked to the full opinion:
Requires consistency in execution, i.e., consistency in the states’ application of death.
Reaffirmed use of the death penalty after the states had passed legislation that met the Furman requirements.
Under 8th Amendment, death penalty is not acceptable (i.e., constitutional) punishment for crime of rape of an adult woman when murder not involved, i.e., the victim is not killed. Effectively set the standard that capital punishment should only be imposed when the underlying crime involved the death of another.
Sentencing authorities cannot be limited to a list of factors when deciding on imposing capital punishment; constitutionally, they are to have the ability to consider all mitigating factors.
No death penalty for someone who does participate in a felony but not involved in killing – no intent to kill, no attempt (successful or not) to do so.
Death penalty by electric chair (electrocution) is constitutionally acceptable.
No death penalty for insane persons.
Death penalty acceptable for defendant convicted of felony murder, who was a major participant and who shows an “extreme indifference to human life.”
State’s determination of which individuals are eligible for the death penalty can be done by statute (legislature decision) or by findings of aggravating circumstances (courtroom decision).
No Death Penalty for children who are 15 years old or younger at the time that the crime is committed.
In jury selection, the defense can challenge for cause anyone in the jury pool who says they would vote for death penalty in every case.
Death Penalty cannot be imposed unless there is a jury (not judge) determination of the necessary aggravating factors because this is a part of the defendant’s constitutional right to a jury trial. (In 2004, Schriro v. Summerlin refused to apply this retroactively.)
No Death Penalty of mentally retarded defendants.
In capital punishment case, all mitigating factors must be considered in both the guilt phase and the penalty (sentencing) phase.
No death penalty for anyone who was under 18 years old when the crime was committed, i.e., juvenile offenders.
It is constitutional for a judge to limit the sentencing phase evidence of a defendant’s innocence to that which was presented in the trial phase.
Death penalty can be imposed even though both mitigating and aggravating factors exist.
On appeal, post-conviction DNA forensic evidence can be presented in death penalty cases.
Lethal injection (three drug) method acceptable form of execution.
No death penalty for any crime "where the victim’s life was not taken."
When the state refuses to provide habeas counsel in post-conviction clemency proceedings, the constitutional right to counsel mandates that federally-funded legal counsel be provided to indigent death row inmates.