Four years after Furmanv. Georgia, the Supreme Court has resolved the major question left unanswered by that decision - does capital punishment per se constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment? The Court also announced the statutory standards which satisfy Furman's requirement that the death penalty not be imposed arbitrarily or capriciously. By a 7-2 vote, the Court held that the imposition of the death penalty for murder did not per se constitute cruel and unusual punishment. By the same vote, the Court upheld the capital sentencing statutes of Georgia, Florida and Texas, noting that arbitrary and capricious infliction of the death penalty can be avoided "by a carefully drafted statute that ensures that the sentencing authority is given adequate information and guidance." By a 5-4vote, the Court invalidated North Carolina's and Louisiana's mandatory death penalty statutes, holding that the eighth amendment required consideration of individual characteristics of the offender and the circumstances of the offense. These decisions also have had the effect of invalidating statutes imposing a mandatory death penalty, including Virginia's current capital punishment statute which was held unconstitutional by the Circuit Court of Loudoun County on October 14, 1976.
James F. Stutts,
Capital Punishment: Constitutional Parameters for the Ultimate Penalty,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol11/iss1/8