United States Supreme Court Decisions: 1972 - 1996
Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238: Court ruled that the death penalty, as applied, was an arbitrary punishment and thus unconstitutional under the 8th and 14th Amendments.
Gregg v. Georgia 428 U.S. 153: The Court held that Georgia’s new capital punishment procedures (bifurcated trials and automatic appeals) were in accordance with the 8th Amendment.
Proffitt v. Florida 428 U.S. 242: The Court denied the petitioner’s claim that Florida’s capital sentencing procedures were unconstitutional.
Jurek v. Texas 428 U.S. 262: The Court denied the petitioner’s claim that Texas’ capital sentencing procedures were unconstitutional.
Woodson v. North Carolina 428 U.S. 280: The Court found that mandatory death sentences for first-degree murder violate the 8th and 14th Amendments.
Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325: Mandatory death sentences for first-degree murder unconstitutional. See Woodson.
Gardner v. Florida 430 U.S. 349: The Court held that a confidential pre-sentence report by the trial court violated the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, finding that defendants have a right to reliable procedures at the sentencing phase of a capital trial.
Coker v. Georgia 433 U.S. 584: The Court held that the 8th Amendment prohibits the implementation of the death penalty for rape of an adult when the victim is not killed.
Lockett v. Ohio 438 U.S. 586: The Court ruled that sentencing authorities, whether a judge or a jury, must be able to consider every possible mitigating factor, rather than being limited to a specific list.
Bell v. Ohio 438 U.S. 637: The Court vacated a death sentence because the statute precluded consideration of facts and circumstances proffered as mitigating circumstances.
Green v. Georgia 442 U.S. 95: The Court held that the exclusion of evidence at the sentencing phase, based upon Georgia’s hearsay rule, was unconstitutional.
Godfrey v. Georgia 446 U.S. 420: The Court found that Georgia’s statute included an aggravating circumstance that was applied in an unconstitutionally vague manner.
Beck v. Alabama 477 U.S. 625: The Court held that a death sentence may not be constitutionally imposed after a guilty verdict on a capital offense if the jury was not permitted to consider a verdict of guilt to a lesser included offense.
Bullington v. Missouri 451 U.S. 430: The Court found that the imposition of a death sentence at a defendant second’s capital trial, after the defendant was originally sentenced to life in prison, violated the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause.
Eddings v. Oklahoma 455 U.S. 104: The Court found that the sentencing court had violated the defendant’s rights when it refused to consider the defendant’s turbulent family history as a mitigating factor.
Edmund v. Florida 458 U.S. 782: The Court held that the death penalty is not allowed for an accomplice to a murder who does not directly kill the victim, unless that defendant attempted or intended to kill.
Zant v. Stephens 465 U.S. 862: The Supreme Court affirmed Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling that the failure of one aggravating circumstance does not invalidate a death sentence that is otherwise adequately supported by other aggravating circumstances.
Barefoot v. Estelle 463 U.S. 880: The Court held that psychiatric testimony regarding future dangerousness of defendant was admissible at sentencing hearing in a capital trial.
Barclay v. Florida 463 U.S. 939: The Court upheld petitioner’s death sentence despite the trial judge’s inappropriate consideration of prior criminal history.
California v. Ramos 463 U.S. 992: The Court held that the Federal Constitution does not prohibit an instruction permitting a capital sentencing jury to consider the Governor's power to commute a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Wainwright v. Goode 464 U.S. 78: The Court upheld a death sentence despite the State Court Judge’s reliance on aggravating factors not available under state law.
Spaziano v. Florida 465 U.S. 447: The Court held that Florida’s law allowing a judge to override the jury’s death recommendation of life in prison did not constitute double jeopardy, and did not violate the constitutional requirement of reliability in capital sentencing.
Pulley v. Harris 465 U.S. 37: The Court held that there was no constitutional requirement for a proportionality review of sentences in comparable cases throughout a state.
Caldwell v. Mississippi 472 U.S. 320: The Court found the prosecution’s closing argument, which suggested that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of a death sentence rested with the Mississippi Supreme Court, was inconsistent with the 8th Amendment’s heightened need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment.
Baldwin v. Alabama 472 U.S. 372: The Court held that Alabama’s death penalty statue, which required jurors to return a non-binding death sentence upon finding the defendant guilty of certain aggravated crimes, but allowed the trial judge to decide punishment after independent consideration of defendant and crime, did not violate the 8th Amendment.
Glass v. Louisiana 471 U.S. 1080: The Court held that the use of electrocution does not violate the Eighth Amendment.
Cabana v. Bullock 474 U.S. 372: The Court held that the fact-finding required to prove that the defendant killed, attempted to kill or intended that a killing take place or that lethal force be used, need not be made by a fact-finder at trial and sentencing, but can be made by trial Courts or state appellate Courts.
Skipper v. South Carolina 476 U.S. 1: The Court held that the exclusion of evidence that defendant has adjusted well to incarceration between arrest and trial violates the holding in Lockett v. Ohio.
Turner v. Murray 476 U.S. 28: The Court held that a defendant accused of an interracial crime is entitled under 6th and 14th Amendments to have jurors informed of the race of the victim and be questioned on the issue of racial bias; refusal to do so would vacate the death sentence.
Lockhart v. McCree 476 U.S. 162: The Constitution does not prohibit the removal for cause, prior to the guilt phase of a bifurcated capital trial, of prospective jurors whose opposition to the death penalty is so strong that it would prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties as jurors at the sentencing phase of the trial.
Ford v. Wainwright 477 U.S. 399: The Court held that the execution of the insane was unconstitutional.
Tison v. Arizona 481 U.S. 137: The Court held that death may be imposed upon a defendant who, with reckless indifference to the value of human life, participated in a felony that resulted in murder.
McCleskey v. Kemp 481 U.S. 279: The Court found that statistical evidence of a profound racial disparity in application of the death penalty, was insufficient to invalidate defendant's death sentence.
Booth v. Maryland 482 U.S. 496: The Court held that the introduction of a Victim impact Statement at the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial violates the Eighth Amendment, and therefore the Maryland statute is invalid to the extent it requires consideration of this information.
Maynard v. Cartwright 486 U.S. 356: The Court held that Oklahoma’s aggravating circumstance referring to “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” murders was unconstitutionally vague under the 8th Amendment.
Mills v. Maryland 468 U.S. 367: The Court found Maryland’s death penalty sentencing instructions to be unconstitutional because a reasonable juror could interpret them as requiring unanimous findings by jury on the absence or presence of mitigating factors.
Johnson v. Mississippi 468 U.S. 578: The Court vacated a death sentence because one of the aggravating factors was a prior New York conviction, which had been invalidated by the New York Court of Appeals.
Franklin v. Lynaugh 487 U.S. 164: The Court concluded that the trial Court's refusal to give petitioner's requested special instructions did not violate his Eighth Amendment right to present mitigating evidence.
Thompson v. Oklahoma 487 U.S. 815: The Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 16 when their crimes were committed.
Lowenfield v. Phelps 484 U.S. 231: The Court held that a death sentence does not violate the Eight Amendment simply because the single statutory aggravating circumstance found by the jury duplicates an element of the underlying offense of first-degree murder.
Hildwin v. Florida 490 U.S. 638: The Court held that the 6th Amendment does not require a jury which renders advisory sentencing verdicts to specify which aggravating circumstances justify imposition of death penalty.
South Carolina v. Gathers 490 U.S. 805: The Court found that for the purposes of imposing the death penalty, the defendant’s punishment must be tailored to his personal responsibility and moral guilt. The Court held that the prosecutor’s statements about the victim were not relevant to the circumstances of the crime.
Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302: The Court held that the the execution of persons with mentally retardation does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, but that state the capital sentencer must have a mechanism to consider and give full effect to mental retardation as a mitigating factor.
Stanford v. Kentucky 492 U.S. 361: The Court held that the imposition of capital punishment on an individual for a crime committed at 16 or 17 years of age does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
Walton v. Arizona 497 U.S. 639: The Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, a jury was not required to pass on the aggravated factors in order to impose a death sentence under Arizona law. A judge, in other words, could weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors before sentencing a defendant to death.
Ford v. Georgia 498 U.S. 411: The Court held that Ford’s pretrial motion to prevent the exclusion of black venire members on the basis of race was adequate to assert an equal protection claim.
Lankford v. Idaho 500 U.S. 110: The Court found that the sentencing process violated the Due Process clause because the appellant was not given adequate notice that the judge might sentence him to death.
Payne v. Tennessee 501 U.S. 808: The Court held that the 8th Amendment does not prohibit the sentencing jury from considering victim impact statements.
Dawson v. Delaware 503 U.S. 159: The Court found that the introduction of evidence that tied the defendant to the Aryan Brotherhood violated the defendant’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights because the evidence had no relevance to the issues being decided in the proceedings.
Espinosa v. Florida 505 U.S. 1079: The Court reversed Espinosa’s death sentence, finding that the jury’s consideration of the crime as "especially wicked, evil, atrocious or cruel," was an unconstitutionally vague statutory requirement.
Richmond v. Lewis 506 U.S. 56: The Court reversed Richmond’s death sentence because they found Arizona’s statutory aggravating factors to be unconstitutionally vague.
Arave v. Creech 507 U.S. 463: Court found that Idaho’s aggravating circumstance asking the jury to consider the “utter disregard for human life” was not vague, and thus, constitutionally permissible.
Johnson v. Texas 509 U.S. 350: The Court rejected Johnson’s claim that Penry v. Lynaugh required separate instruction on the question regarding his youth in the sentencing phase of his capital trial.
Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390: Leonel Herrera presented evidence from a variety of witnesses, including an eyewitness to the murder and a former Texas state judge, indicating someone else had committed the crime he was conicted of. However, the Court, while assuming that a claim of innocence raised a constitutional issue, held that Herrera's evidence was insufficient to merit a federal hearing, and noted he had recourse to the clemency process in Texas.
Romano v. Oklahoma 512 U.S. 1: The Court held that the admission of a defendant’s death sentence in a prior trial during the sentencing phase of his second capital trial did not amount to a constitutional violation.
Tuilaepa v. California 512 U.S. 967: The Court upheld the constitutionality of California’s death sentence procedures, with specific regard to the “special circumstances” consideration.
Harris v. Alabama 513 U.S. 504: The Court held that the Eighth Amendment does not require the State to define the weight the sentencing judge must give to an advisory jury verdict.
Loving v. United States 517 U.S. 748: The Court rejected Private Loving’s claim that the military Court martial that sentenced him to death lacked the power to delegate to the President the authority to prescribe aggravating factors in capital murder cases.
The Supreme Court Database
Southern Center for Human Rights, “Significant U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Capital Cases since 1970” (1992)