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This Day in Georgia History

June 29, 1972

Furman v. Georgia

In a landmark case by the U.S. Supreme Court, justices in a 5-4 decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia ruled that the death penalty as then applied by the states amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The decision did not declare the death penalty per se cruel and unusual punishment but rather the arbitrariness with which it had been applied. Justice Douglas, speaking for the majority, noted that “we deal with a system of law and of justice that leaves to the uncontrolled discretion of judges or juries the determination whether defendants committing these crimes should die or be imprisoned. Under these laws no standards govern the selection of the penalty. People live or die, dependent on the whim of one man or of 12.” Every justice contributed a separate concurring or dissenting opinion, making Furman v. Georgia the longest decision in the history of the Supreme Court.