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Four Actual Courtroom Death Penalty Cases

Direction: The death penalty assignment requires that you read four actual courtroom case summaries. You will then be responsible for answering the proceeding questions for each of the cases (14). Be sure to use scholarly material (content from the textbook, independent research, and lecture notes) to support each of your responses. 

Case #1 – Gregg v. Georgia, 1976:

The Crime

On November 1, 1973, Troy Gregg and Floyd Allen were hitchhiking north in Florida. Fred Simmons and Bob Moore picked them up. That night they made a rest stop. The bodies of Simmons and Moore were found in a ditch the next day. That afternoon Gregg and Allen, driving in Simmons’ car, were stopped and arrested in Asheville, North Carolina. Police found a pistol in Gregg’s pocket that was later proved to be the weapon that killed Simmons and Moore. Gregg admitted to the killings but said they were in self-defense.

Gregg and Allen were taken to the scene of the killings. Allen told detectives that Gregg had told him during the rest stop that he intended to rob Simmons and Moore. As they came up an embankment, Allen said, he shot and killed both Simmons and Moore. Allen said he and Gregg then took their victims’ valuables and drove off in Simmons’ car.

The Trial 

At his trial, Gregg again confessed to the killings, but continued to maintain that he had acted in self-defense. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Gregg appealed his case to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

This time, also in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Gregg decision was not “cruel and unusual” and that in the four years between the two decisions, Georgia and other states had named 1) specific factors “to be weighed and the procedures to be followed in deciding when to impose a capital sentence” and 2) made “the death penalty mandatory for specified crimes.”

Justice Potter Stewart stated: “Whatever the arguments may be against capital punishment, both on moral grounds and in terms of accomplishing the purposes of punishment…the death penalty has been employed throughout our history, and, in a day when it is still widely accepted, it cannot be said to violate the constitutional concept of cruelty.”

For discussion

1. Why did the Supreme Court find that the death penalty was not “cruel and unusual”?

2. What happened between 1972 and 1976 that produced a different Supreme Court ruling?

3. Does Justice Stewart contradict himself in the 1972 and 1976 rulings? If so, how? If not, why not?

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