List of United States Supreme Court decisions on capital punishment

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The U.S. Supreme Court has issued numerous rulings on the use of capital punishment (the death penalty). While some rulings applied very narrowly, perhaps to only one individual, other cases have had great influence over wide areas of procedure, eligible crimes, acceptable evidence and method of execution.

Year Case Ruling
1879 Wilkerson v. Utah Execution as prescribed by territorial (or state) statute does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
1905 Rooney v. North Dakota Adoption of private execution versus public execution after sentence and prior execution does not affect this sentence.
1932 Powell v. Alabama Judges are required to ensure that indigent defendants in capital cases who could not represent themselves be appointed counsel.
1947 Francis v. Resweber Re-execution after a failed attempt does not constitute double jeopardy
1968 Witherspoon v. Illinois A state may not have unlimited challenge for cause of jurors who might have any objection to the death penalty. (See also Morgan v. Illinois (1992))
1971 McGautha v. California Held that death penalty can be imposed by a jury without standards to govern its imposition, and that a unitary guilt and punishment proceeding was constitutional. (First finding modified in Furman v. Georgia (1972), second finding modified in Gregg v. Georgia (1976))
1972 Furman v. Georgia Ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. This ruling effectively established a four-year moratorium on the death penalty between 1972 and 1976, when it was reinstated by Gregg v. Georgia, as listed below.
1976 Gregg v. Georgia Reaffirmed the Supreme Court's acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States.
1976 Woodson v. North Carolina Held that mandatory imposition of the death penalty in first-degree murder cases violates the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments.
1977 Coker v. Georgia Under Eighth Amendment, held that the death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for rape of an adult woman when the victim is not killed.
1978 Lockett v. Ohio Sentencing authorities must have the discretion to consider every possible mitigating factor, rather than being limited to a specific list of factors.
1980 Beck v. Alabama Jury must be allowed to consider lesser included offense, not just capital offense or acquittal
1980 Godfrey v Georgia Death penalty is not possible for ordinary murder.
1982 Enmund v. Florida Death penalty is not allowed for a person who is a minor participant in a felony and does not kill, attempt to kill, or intend to kill.
1984 Pulley v. Harris Found that there was no constitutional requirement for a proportionality review of sentences in comparable cases throughout a state
1984 Spaziano v. Florida It is constitutional for a judge to override a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment and impose the death penalty. Essentially overruled by Ring v. Arizona.
1985 Glass v. Louisiana Electrocution does not violate Eighth Amendment
1986 Ford v. Wainwright Execution of insane persons banned under Eighth Amendment.
1987 Tison v. Arizona Death penalty may be imposed on a felony-murder defendant who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibits extreme indifference to human life.
1987 McCleskey v. Kemp Racial disparities not recognized as a constitutional violation of "equal protection of the law" unless intentional racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown.
1988 Lowenfield v. Phelps Found that the function of restricting the class of murderers eligible for capital punishment can be accomplished by explicit law or by findings of aggravating circumstances
1988 Thompson v. Oklahoma Executions of offenders age fifteen and younger at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional under Eighth Amendment.
1989 Stanford v. Kentucky Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age sixteen or seventeen. (Overturned in Roper v. Simmons (2005))
1989 Penry v. Lynaugh Executing persons with mental retardation is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Overturned in Atkins v. Virginia (2002))
1990 Walton v. Arizona Found judicial sentencing and the aggravating factor "especially heinous, cruel, or depraved" are not unconstitutionally vague. (First finding overturned in Ring v. Arizona (2002))
1992 Morgan v. Illinois A defendant may challenge for cause a prospective juror who would automatically vote to impose the death penalty in every capital case
1993 Herrera v. Collins In the absence of other constitutional grounds, new evidence of innocence is no reason for federal court to order a new trial.
1995 Schlup v. Delo Expanded the ability to reopen a case in light of new evidence of innocence
2002 Ring v. Arizona A death sentence where the necessary aggravating factors are determined by a judge violates a defendant's constitutional right to a trial by jury.
2002 Atkins v. Virginia The execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
2004 Tennard v. Dretke Held that all relevant mitigating factors must be considered in the penalty phase of a death penalty case, not just in the trial phase
2004 Schriro v. Summerlin Held that a requirement from the Ring decision requiring the jury rather than the judge to find aggravating factors would not be applied retroactively.
2005 Roper v. Simmons The death penalty for those who had committed their crimes under 18 years of age is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment.
2006 Oregon v. Guzek States may limit the evidence of innocence a defendant may present at his sentencing hearing to evidence already presented at his trial.
2006 Hill v. McDonough Allowed appeal on civil rights violation grounds, even after habeas appeal
2006 Kansas v. Marsh States not prohibited from imposing the death penalty when mitigating and aggravating sentencing factors were both present.
2006 House v. Bell Post-conviction DNA forensic evidence can be considered in death penalty appeals.
2008 Medellin v. Texas A requirement imposed by a treaty is not binding unless it was enacted by a statute created by Congress.
2008 Baze v. Rees Found Kentucky's lethal injection method did not violate the Eighth Amendment
2008 Kennedy v. Louisiana States may not impose the death penalty for a crime against the person "where the victim's life was not taken"
2009 Harbison v. Bell Indigent death row inmates sentenced under state law have a right to federally funded habeas counsel in post-conviction state clemency proceedings, when the state has denied such counsel.
2011 Leal Garcia v. Texas Foreign nationals do not have to be notified that they can contact their consulate, unless Congress enacts such a law.
2014 Hall v. Florida IQ tests alone can not be used as a rigid limit for determining intellectual disability.


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