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Quest For Abolition Critical Issues In Policing Michael OBrien INTRODUCTION In 1972 the Supreme Court declared that under the existing laws the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments Furman v Georgia 408 US 238 The majority of the Court concentrated its objections on the way death penalty laws had been applied finding the result so harsh freakish and arbitrary as to be constitutionally unacceptable Making the nationwide impact of its decision unmistakable the Court summarily reversed death sentences in the many cases then before it which involved a wide range of state statutes crimes and factual situations But within four years after the Furman decision more than 600 persons had been sentenced to death under new capital-punishment statutes that provided guidance for the jurys sentencing discretion These statutes typically require a two-stage trial procedure in which the jury first determines guilt or innocence and then chooses imprisonment or death in the light of aggravating or mitigating circumstances In July 1976 the Supreme Court moved in the opposite direction holding that the punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution The Court ruled that these new statutes contained objective standards to guide regularize and make rationally reviewable the process for imposing the sentence of death Gregg v Georgia US 153 Thus the states as well as Congress have had for some years constitutionally valid statutory models for death penalty laws and more than three dozen state legislatures have enacted death-penalty statutes patterned after those the Court upheld in Gregg In recent years Congress has enacted death penalty statutes for peacetime espionage by military personnel and for drug-related murders Executions resumed in 1977 and by the early 1990s nearly three thousand persons were under sentence of death and more
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