FC: Furman v. Georgia (1971) Emma Nero & Meghan Joyce
1: Table of Contents | Background Information............................................2-5 Furman Stands Trial.................................................6-10 To the Highest Court..............................................11-16 The Decision...........................................................17-21 Justices........................................................................22 Aftermath................................................................23-24 Sources........................................................................25
2: Background Information | William Henry Furman, a twenty-six-year-old black man, resided in Georgia during the 1960's. At the time he had been laid off his job and was traveling around Georgia, partaking in odd | Furman's Lifestyle | jobs until the time came when his money ran out. Furman quickly became depressed and turned to breaking and entering, along with theft to survive. According to Georgia State patrol, this man was no harm to anyone. His robbery attacks were planned and lasted only 10-15 minutes, taking whatever valuables he could. He had been caught a few
3: times, but let off with a slap on the wrist. He had been examined by a state-appointed psychiatrist, who found him to be emotionally disturbed, but not enough to place him in jail or a mental institution. | A Turn For The Worst | On August 11, 1967, Furman's luck took a turn for the worst. This night he broke into the home of William Joseph Micke, Jr., a father of five and husband to his wife. While the Micke family was sound asleep, Furman broke into their home, searching the lower level for any valuables he could find. Micke suddenly awoke at the sound of Furman rummaging through the lower level of his home. He slowly made his way towards the
4: kitchen as the noises grew louder. At this time Furman realized he was not the only person awake in this home. He pulled out a gun in case he needed it to scare the | homeowner away. As Furman became scared he fled through the back door, where he tripped and fell causing his gun to fire, killing William Joseph Micke. Furman was down the street from the scene with the murder weapon in his pocket when police located him. | The Cases Beginning | When it came to for Furman to face the judge in court he pleaded not guilty by means on insanity.The courts ordered a psychiatric test, and it was determined that
5: he was mentally deficient. The physicians testified in court that Furman was not psychotic at the time of his examination, but they agreed that he was not capable of cooperating with his attorney in the preparation of his own case. Furman was place in psychiatric hospitalization where his mental condition was again reviewed. It was determined that he was mentally competent to stand trial for murder.
6: Furman Stands Trial | The Lower Courts | Furman stands trial, is convicted and then scheduled for sentencing. The jury, faced with sentencing life in prison or death, chose death. Furman's attorney was shocked at this choice. After all Furman had been through he was sure the jury would give him life imprisonment at worst. Besides the fact that he killed somone in the process of a burglary, he had his race also going against him. He was black.
7: Uphill Battle | Clarence Mayfield, the selected attorney to write the written a written argument of Furman's case for the Georgia Supreme Court knew he faced trouble. He researched capital punishment and the death penalty in America , and discovered that history considered execution to be a perfectly acceptable form of punishment, unless the manner of execution was inhumane. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, execution by electrocution--as Furman was most likely to face--wasn't seen as inhumane. Mayfield set out on the long and difficult job of locating legal precedents and reviewing previous court and historical documents that might prove beneficial to Furman's case. In the end he concluded the question: What is cruel and unusual
8: punishment? and Was the death penalty handed out to Furman, cruel and unusual punishment? | Mayfield's Arguments | > Request an overturn of the death penalty imposed on Furman by the lower court. > Furman had not been informed of his constitutional rights at the time of his arrest, and therefore, his statements regarding the crime had been improperly admitted during the original trial. >Furman had been held in jail for more than the 48-hour legal maximum for being charged, the jury's verdict should be overturned > Four days passed before the hearing that was held to determine whether or not Furman was mentally competent to stand trial > Georgia state laws authorizing capital punishment violated the U.S Constituion's 8th amendment
9: A Motion Is Filed | Mayfield successfully filed a motion for review by the Supreme Court of Georgia for Furman's case. The states attorney did the same as Clarence Mayfield and did numerous amounts of research regarding other cases to make up their arguments against Furman. | Georgia's Arguments | > Georgia State Penal System records that seemed to refute the discrimination-- more blacks were executed due to their domination of the Georgia prisons > Georgia State penal System statistics from earlier years failed to take into account the changes in Georgia's criminal justice system that recently took place. > Several U.S. Supreme Court decisions affirming the jury's right to set sentencing in murder cases
10: > Statistics show that the majority of Americans were not opposed to the death penalty when imposed by a judge or a jury > Nowhere in the Constitution is there a restriction preventing individual states from imposing and carrying out sentencing The states attorney was confident with his arguments | April 24,1969 | The Supreme Court of Georgia met to consider overturning Furman's death sentence. After Clarence Mayfield gave his best effort to defend William henry Furman, the states' attorney found fault within all of Mayfield's arguments thus leading to a failure of convincing the court to overturn Furman's conviction and sentencing.
11: To the Highest Court | Within two years of Furman's arrest, trial, and conviction for murder, the Georgia Supreme Court had reviewed the case on appeal. It ruled unanimously in favor of upholding the lower court's decision. He was to sit in prison until his day of execution. | Other Plans | After the Ruling | Furman's attorney continued behind the scenes searching for answers. Soon after the Supreme Court of Georgia issued it's ruling, Mayfield filed a petition for certiorari--a request to move the case to the United States Supreme Court. They agreed to hear the case.
12: The Lawyers Arguments | It was now in the hands of the American judicial system to decide the fate of William Henry Furman--and more importantly the fate of the death penalty | in America. Furman's attorney, Anthony Amsterdam) had high hopes to not prove Furman innocent of robbery and murder, but to prove the death penalty he was sentenced as cruel and unusual punishment therefor unconstitutional. The Georgia states attorney (Dorothy T. Beasley) kept her argument that the death penalty was constitutional and the case of Furman met all of the requirements of the U.S. Constitution's 8th and 14th amendments, therefore he sentence should stand.
13: January 17, 1972 | Both lawyers set forth with their arguments. One of the justices asked Amsterdam if he thought it was possible that the death penalty might be unconstitutional except in a few cases. Amsterdam replied that it might be possible , but he pointed out that placing restriction on the death penalty would require new laws to be passed. He also discussed how unevenly the death penalty was handed out in American courts. He was then asked about which types of prisoners the state of Georgia executes, and he answers--blacks. Amsterdam goes on to argue the reason the death penalty had not been abolished before 1972 was because so few executions actually took place. After being questioned and answering, he concludes and wanted to leave time for the
14: Georgia's states attorney to present her arguments. After summing up his case, Chief Justice Warren Burger asked Dorothy Beasley to present her arguments for the state of Geogria. Beasley opened her argument by questioning whether or not the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the 8th Amendment, the petitioners had overlooked one important | Chief Justice Warren E. Burger | point--due process of law. The justices replied by questioning if any form of punishment was acceptable by the fourteenth amendment such as burning a prisoner in oil. She replied," I think no,
15: Your Honor." Beasley was then asked what standard she would use to determine which punishments were acceptable and which ones were cruel and unusual. She told the court that it is the same standard that has been used by the court in so many cases in applying the due process clause. The court then started asking Beasley questions that seemed to cast a shadow over her argument. Many other cases decided by the United States Supreme Court were brought to light by the justices to point out that Beasley's argument could not be solely based off of the fourteenth amendment--there was more to the matter. In her closing arguments she cited several Supreme Court cases that held that the legislature had the right to pass whatever laws it wanted to pass, and that it was the court's right to determine the constitutionality of these laws. She
16: also explained the fourteenth amendment gave the states specific right to administer the death penalty-- and to decide to whom it did so--so long as the accused was granted due process of law. She rested her case. | Amsterdam's Rebuttal | Amsterdam responded to Beasley's argument, by saying that a small number of jurors did not represent the attitude of an entire nation toward capital punishment. He then asked the court why it should step in to determine the question of whether or not capital punishment was constitutional. Why not simply let the death-penalty issue slowly fade away, as it seemed to be doing anyway? He rested his case.
17: The Decision | Five Months Later... | Anthony Amsterdam and Dorothy Beasley both received a telephone call from the clerk of the Court. The Justices had reached a decision that was planned to be announced the next day. The nine Justices entered the Supreme Court on the morning of June 29, 1972, while all members of the case waited in suspense. Not long after everyone was settle Chief Justice Warren Burger delivered the decision of the court. Decision: The Court holds that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments. The judgment in each case is therefore reversed.
18: The decision was a split vote, 5 to 4, with justices William O. Douglas, William A. Brennan, Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron R. White, and Thurgood Marshall concurring, and Justices Warren E. Burger, Harry A. Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist dissenting. All nine justices filed separate opinions in support of their votes because all nine had a different view on why the death penalty was--or wasn't--unconstitutional. | Justices Opinions | > Douglas: said that he found it to be cruel and unusual punishment to apply the penalty selectively to minorities whose numbers are few, who are outcasts of society, and who are unpopular, but whom society is willing to see suffer, although it would not tolerate the death penalty applied objectively in every case across the board. > Brennan: agreed with Douglas, and said the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual
19: punishment was not limited to tortuous punishments or to punishments that were considered cruel and unusual at the time the Eighth amendment was adopted. >Stewart: said petitioners were among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death was imposed that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments could not tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems which permitted this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed but that it was unnecessary to reach the ultimate question of whether or not the infliction of the death penalty was constitutionally impermissible in all circumstances under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments > White: agreeing with Stewart, said that as the state statutes involved in the case were administered, the death penalty was so infrequently imposed that the threat of execution was too rare to be of very much use to the criminal justice system. >Marshall: said the death penalty violated the Eighth amendment because it was an excessive and unnecessary
20: punishment and because it was morally unacceptable to the majority of the people of the United States. > Burger: disagreed with the majority, said that the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments could not be interpreted as barring the death sentenced from being used. >Blackmun: Agreed with Burger that the eighth amendment protections did not apply in this case. > Powell: stated that none of the opinions supporting the Court;s decision provided a constitutional basis for the decision and that the case against the constitutionality of the death penalty fell far short, especially when viewed in light of the references to capital punishment in the Constitution, in previous Supreme Court cases, and in light of the duties of the state and federal legislatures to make the laws. > Rehnquist: emphasized the need for judicial self-restraint and added that the broadest interpretation of the leading constitutional cases did not suggest that the Supreme Court had the authority, either by the Founding Fathers or by the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, to strike down laws that were based upon notions of policy or morality.
21: Two Final Decisions | 1. The imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, at least where a person convicted in a state court for murder or rape is Negro and is sentences to death after a trial by a jury which, under state law, has discretion to determine whether or not to impose the death penalty. 2. Upon holding that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in certain cases constitues cruel and unusual punishment, the United States Supreme Court will reverse state appellate court judgments.
22: Justices | Warren E. Burger | William William Potter Rhenquist Douglas Stewart | Thurgood Harry Marshall Blackmun | William Lewis Byron Brennan Powell White
23: Furmans case failed within the lower courts of Georgia, and then when it reached the United States Supreme Court where Furman won his case. | Aftermath | Taking Measures | Within the first few days following the Furman v. Georgia decision, legislators from 37 states enacted new death penalty laws aimed at overcoming the court's concerns about arbitrary imposition of the death penalty. on conviction of a certain crime were struck down in cases of that same year.
24: Several statutes mandating bifurcated trials, with separate guilt-innocence and sentencing phases, and imposing standards to guide the discretion of juries and judges in imposing capital sentences, were upheld in a series of Supreme Court decisions in 1976, led by Gregg v. Georgia. Other statutes enacted in response to Furman which mandated imposition of the death penalty upon conviction of a certain crime were struck down in cases of that same year.
25: Sources | “Byron White.” NNDB. N.p., 2012. Web. 24 May 2012.