The Law: Living on Death Row

The Supreme Court in 1972 declared that the death penalty as it had been imposed in the U.S. violated the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. Though the decision was widely interpreted as ending capital punishment altogether, that conclusion is premature. Three of the court's five-Justice majority keyed their constitutional objections to the "arbitrary," "capricious" and "freakish" choices made by sentencing judges or juries in determining which convicted defendants should be executed. To meet those objections, 30 states have made death the mandatory sentence for certain offenses.

Thus at least 186 men and two women are currently under threat of execution.


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