As the paper declares the charge that death penalty sentences are arbitrary is certainly nothing new. That phrase was undoubtedly used most notably by Justice Douglas in writing the majority opinion for Furman v. Georgia, the famous 1972 Supreme Court decision that outlawed (temporarily) all federal and state executions. Justice White also focused on the arbitrariness of the application of capital punishment, including the appearance of racial bias against black defendants. The court also called executions capricious. It seems incomprehensible that implementation of the ultimate punishment could be administered in a way that is impulsive, unpredictable, or erratic.
This dicussion stresses that Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart compared the arbitrariness of the death penalty to the freakishness of being struck by lightning. Ironically, that appraisal has proven eerily accurate since, in the last five years, an average of 78 people have been executed in the United States annually; while, in one recent year, 76 Americans were struck by lightning. Despite these strong legal views regarding the death penalty, the moratorium put in place by the Supreme Court in 1972 ended in 1977 with the execution of Gary Gilmore. It has been widely assumed by the general public that the rationale for pursuing the death penalty in cases - and an execution being ordered - is based primarily on the brutality of the crime or number of victims. If that were true, the death penalty would seem far less arbitrary. ...Show more