Gregg v. Georgia (1976) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Gregg v. Georgia (1976) was a SCOTUS decision where the Court ruled that the death penalty for a convicted murderer was not in itself a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Citation: 28 U.S. 153 (1976)

Gregg v. Georgia was a landmark Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty as a punishment for certain crimes. This case was a response to the Furman v. Georgia decision of 1972, which had effectively declared the death penalty unconstitutional due to its arbitrary and discriminatory application. In Gregg v. Georgia, the Court specifically addressed the issue of whether or not the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The case arose when Troy Leon Gregg was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Georgia. Gregg challenged the constitutionality of his sentence, arguing that the death penalty was a form of cruel and unusual punishment that violated his Eighth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case and issued a decision on July 2, 1976.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the death penalty was not inherently unconstitutional but that its application must be guided by certain procedural safeguards to prevent arbitrary and capricious imposition. The Court identified two types of procedures that must be in place in order to ensure that the death penalty is applied in a fair and consistent manner: bifurcated trials and proportionality review.

Bifurcated trials involve separate phases for guilt and sentencing. During the guilt phase, the jury determines whether the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. During the sentencing phase, the jury considers aggravating and mitigating factors and decides whether the defendant should be sentenced to death or to a lesser penalty, such as life imprisonment.

Proportionality review requires courts to examine the specific circumstances of each case to ensure that the death penalty is not being applied in a disproportionate or discriminatory manner. This involves comparing the defendant’s crime and background to those of other defendants who have been sentenced to death, as well as to defendants who have received lesser penalties.

The Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia effectively reinstated the death penalty in the United States, but it also established important procedural safeguards to prevent its arbitrary and discriminatory application. However, many critics of the death penalty argue that it is still applied unfairly and disproportionately to marginalized and disadvantaged groups and that it is an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment that has no place in a civilized society.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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