Gregg v. Georgia: Case Brief & Summary

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

The Gregg v. Georgia case is historically and legally significant because it upheld the legality of the death penalty. Gregg v. Georgia was one of the first cases to challenge the court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, in which the courts restricted the application of the death penalty to prevent capricious or arbitrary use.

The Death Penalty Reconsidered: Gregg v. Georgia

In the early 1970's, U.S. states were required to add statutes and limitations on the application of the death penalty following the landmark court case of Furman v. Georgia. Once these were in place, many convicts who were sentenced to death under the new guidelines pressed the United States Supreme Court to reconsider its standing on the death penalty. The court, in Gregg v. Georgia, upheld the legality of the death penalty; however, as we will see, not everyone agreed with the court's findings.

The Case of Troy Gregg

Troy Gregg killed and robbed two men in cold blood by the side of the road and dumped their bodies in a trench. When Gregg was caught, he claimed the acts had been in self-defense, but it soon became clear that his version of the story was deceptive, and he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Gregg's sentence was one of the first to follow the guidelines that each state created after the Supreme Court's ruling in Furman v. Georgia, which found that the death penalty should not be applied arbitrarily. Gregg's attorneys argued that the sentencing of the death penalty in his case did not meet that requirement and again pushed to have the death sentence overturned on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual punishment.

Gregg v. Georgia: Ruling

In 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, the courts made a major shift in thinking about the death penalty, ruling that its application outside of narrow and specific circumstances was 'cruel and unusual punishment'. This ruling required states to create new statutes to specify when the death penalty could be applied, to prevent it from being applied arbitrarily or irrationally. This marked a small victory for anti-death penalty advocates, and in the case of Gregg v. Georgia they appealed to the court to find the death penalty unconstitutional.

In Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court found that the death penalty was constitutional so long as there was a system in place to prevent arbitrary and capricious application and that Georgia's statues were sufficient to prevent this. The court ensured that the death penalty was not a mandatory sentence, that it was applied in cases where there were relevant aggravating circumstances, and that there was a way to review the sentence to ensure it was not made on poor grounds. Georgia's statutes made sure that the penalty was applied in limited cases so it was not an unusual punishment and that the factors of the crime considered at sentencing prevented it from being applied cruelly.

Justice Marshall Dissents

Justice Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall

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