Furman, a black, 26 year old, confessed that he did not know that he had shot or killed the homeowner; all he was trying to do was escape from the house he had set out to burglarize, and did not know that anyone had died until he was picked up by the police. State law in Georgia, at that time, made Furman eligible for the death penalty because the shooting took place during the commission of a felony. It took the jury less than two hours to convict him of murder, as well as sentencing Furman to death.
In reversing the Georgia Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court held, “. . . the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.” Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas stated, “In a nation committed to equal protection of the laws there is no permissible “caste” aspect of law enforcement. Yet we know that the discretion of judges and juries in imposing the death penalty enables the penalty to be selectively applied . . .” Douglas believed that juries lacked the guidance needed, and arbitrarily applied the death penalty to target certain populations, by acting on th...
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... committed or as a specific or general deterrent, while avoiding gratuitous infliction of suffering.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court found that Georgia’s newest death penalty law was not unconstitutional, and that the Georgia law was both “judicious” and “carefully written.” Writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart held that “the statutory system under which Gregg was sentenced to death does not violate the Constitution.” Only Justices Brennan and Marshall dissented from this opinion. Justice Brennan reaffirmed the views he held in his Furman v. Georgia. Justice Marshall, also reaffirmed the views he held at the time of Furman v. Georgia, and goes on to say that, “ . . .the taking of life “because the wrongdoer deserves it” surely must fall, for such a punishment has at it’s very basis the total denial of the wrong-doer’s dignity and worth.”
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