Jurek v. Texas supplemented the Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), by holding that statutory aggravating and mitigating factors were not required for a state’s capital punishment scheme to be constitutional. A jury convicted Jurek of murder and sentenced him to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed the death sentence.
In upholding the constitutionality of the death penalty in Gregg, the Court approved of Georgia’s statutory scheme, which provided aggravating and mitigating factors for the jury to consider. In Jurek, Justice Stevens found that Texas’ legislative scheme was equally sufficient to guard against the arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty. Because Texas provided a narrowed definition of capital murder, Justice Stevens said that Texas effectively required at least one aggravating circumstance to exist before a death sentence could be considered. Once in a sentencing hearing, the jury was required to answer three specific questions, one of which, according to Justice Stevens, allowed the jury to consider any and all mitigating circumstances. Therefore, Texas’ death penalty statute appropriately focused the sentencing jury on the particularized circumstances of the individual offense and the individual offender.
The Jurek Court’s approval of Texas’ capital punishment scheme expanded on Gregg and provided further guidance for other states to follow in drafting or amending their death penalty statutes.
EARL F. MARTIN
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Capital Punishment; Capital Punishment and the Equal Protection Clause Cases; Capital Punishment Reversed; Capital Punishment: Due Process Limits; Capital Punishment: Eighth Amendment Limits; Capital Punishment: History and Politics