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Capital Punishment: Cruel and Unusual?

The U.S. Supreme Court's restoration of the death penalty in 1976 sparked a continuing national debate on whether capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This research will take the position of being in favor of capital punishment. It is not cruel and unusual punishment but an indispensable symbol of public authority.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court seemingly outlawed the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia. In 1976, the Court reversed itself in Gregg v. Georgia, on the grounds that legislative responses to Furman had indicated a strong public support for death sentences in murder cases. This was evidenced by the fact that after Furman, 28 states had written new capital statutes, and by 1976, that number had grown to 35, with more than 460 persons sentenced to death. Actual executions did not begin until 1977 (Wicker ix). The Court was simply recognizing a reality: people want capital punishment.

In the 1990s, close to eighty percent of people in the United States favor capital punishment, in the absence of alternatives (such as life in prison without parole). They view it not as violence but as a form of justice (Kaminer 30). Often these same people are against the death penalty as a concept--but when faced with the reality of a particularly brutal murder, many will state that the death penalty is justified.

For example, during the jury selection of a man about to be tried for a brutal murder, a woman of upright character was asked what she


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