The death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment as long as certain minimal procedural requirements are met.
Charles William Profitt was sentenced to death for committing a murder during the course of a burglary. He argued that his death sentence was unconstitutional because of the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is imposed. The Supreme Court rejected his argument. Crucial to the Court’s holding was the fact that Florida had procedures in place to ensure that the death penalty was not imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner. First, a separate evidentiary hearing was held after a defendant was found guilty, during which aggravating and mitigating evidence was presented. According to the Court, this ensured that the defendant received individualized consideration. Second, the trial judge was required to find that the aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances in order to impose a death sentence. Finally, after death was imposed, the sentence was subject to appellate review by the state’s highest court.
The Court concluded that, as a result of these procedures, ‘‘it is no longer true that there is ‘no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed from the many cases in which it is not.’’’ This conclusion, however, has not been proven to be true and it remains just as difficult to distinguish the few cases in which it is imposed from the many in which it is not.
KENNETH A. WILLIAMS
See also Capital Punishment; Capital Punishment and Equal Protection Clause Cases; Capital Punishment: Due Process Limits; Capital Punishment: EighthAmendment Limits; Capital Punishment: History and Politics