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U.S. Supreme Court and the Death Penalty

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 thought of the death penalty. Her response was that she was against it--but not in this case ("Crime and Punishment 3). This phenomenon occurs because people have been taught that it is wrong to kill and religion has taught them that they should be merciful. However, when reality sets in, they realize that some crimes are so terrible that the only just punishment is death. The person who has committed such a crime has lost his right to live.

The Catholic church is outspoken in its opposition to the death penalty. Yet Catholics do not differ from non-Catholics in their view of the morality of the death penalty (Drinan 13). Furthermore, those favoring the death penalty cannot be divided into liberal versus conservative camps so easily. For example, George Pataki, when he ran for governor o...

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