Gregg v. Georgia
The U. S. Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) cleared the way for states to re-establish the death penalty following a period of suspension due to the decision in Furman v. Georgia in 1972. Each state had to revise its death penalty process and procedures to comply with the guidelines established by the Furman decision before they could resume the practice.
The Supreme Court cannot dictate to states how to handle a particular situation, such as implementing the death penalty, but it can outline acceptable practices to be compliant with the Constitution. Gregg v. Georgia was a consolidation of several cases from different states that tested the constitutionality of the death penalty in general as the plaintiffs, each sentenced to death in a different state, sought to have the practice declared cruel and unusual punishment. In effect, it was a test of the Furman decision.
In the end, the Court decided that the death penalty serves as a suitable, socially acceptable penalty for the most heinous of crimes as well as being a deterrant to future crime as long as it is administered within certain guidelines.
There were many legal challenges to the death penalty in the 1970s. California’s death penalty was reinstated by voters after the state Supreme Court determined it to be contrary to the state constitution in the 1972 decision California v. Anderson. The Supreme Court considered this and the willingness of juries to impose the death sentence as societal acceptance of the punishment in its ruling on the Gregg v. Georgia case: if Americans in general did not find the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment, the court could not make that decision for society. The willingness of states (35 to be exact) to enact changes suggested in the Court’s Furman decision was further indication that the death penalty was a necessary component of society and the justice system.