Furman v. Georgia – 1972

~Background Information
· In 1972, William Henry Furman, a 26-year-old African American, had broken into a house in Savannah, Georgia. The homeowner discovered Furman presence, and realized Furman was carrying a gun on his person. After realizing he had been caught, Furman ran away, he tripped, “accidentally” firing the gun. The homeowner, William Joseph Micke, died on the spot. After a quick, one day long trial in Chatham County, Georgia, Furman was found guilty of murder and faced the death penalty.
· The case was argued on January 17, 1972 and decided on June 29, 1972 by the Burger Court.external image gavel.jpg

~ Constitutional Significance

· The underlying issue of this case is whether or not use of the death penalty in murder cases in unconstitutional.
· The 8th amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment for crimes. The way the state of Georgia was using the death penalty, was thought to be violating this amendment.
· The 14th amendment ensures that all citizens of the United States, regardless of the state they live in, are protected equally under the law and should receive all the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights. Furman was African-American and this amendment was put in place specifically to ensure African-Americans received the same rights as all other citizens.

· In this case, the Supreme Court ruled the use of the death penalty against Furman as unconstitutional. They felt that the way the death penalty was administered fell under “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court ruled that Georgia’s use of the death penalty was in violation of the 8th and 14th amendments. In the end, there were five votes in favor of Furman, and four votes against him. Two of the justices believed the death penalty is unconstitutional in all instances, not just this particular case. The others agreed that this case was biased because of the fact that Furman was an African-American, solidifying the fact that the case itself was unconstitutional. Also, the death penalty should not be used without more carfeul consideration. Furman's trial only lasted one day, and was unfair because he did not receive much protection due to the fact that he was African-American, poor, uneducated, and mentally disabled. The court called for all state legislatures to think more cexternal image 88744062.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D037E8B8F3E41738F35D1029DCF9A20A917EE246F67BAC3879E30A760B0D811297arefully before administering the death penalty. They also urged the states, as well as the national government, to be sure that they were not sentencing citizens to death based on race and discrimination.

~Important Terms and Concepts
· Cruel and Unusual Punishment – Generally, punishments for a crime should be in proportion to the crime committed. For example, for a minor crime, such as running from a police officer, the death penalty would not be an appropriate consequence.
· The Eighth Amendment – The 8th amendment gives citizens the choice to either remain in jail while awaiting trial, or to pay a reasonable bail based on the crime committed. It also bans excessive fines and states that cruel and unusual punishment should not be used when sentencing criminals.
· The Fourteenth Amendment – The 14th amendment defines a U.S. citizen as anybody born and naturalized in the United States. It also guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law,” regardless of race, ethnicity, etc. The 14th amendment came about after slavery was abolished, but the government realized African-Americans were still being treated poorly.

Page By: Ashley Cirone and Adam Gunther