Furman v. Georgia (1972)

Case Brief Summary (IRAC Pattern)

Issue: The central issue in Furman v. Georgia (1972) was whether the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Rule: The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The Fourteenth Amendment ensures that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Jurisprudence requires that punishment must be proportionate to the offense and that arbitrary or discriminatory imposition of the death penalty violates the Constitution.

Application: The Supreme Court consolidated cases from Georgia and Texas where the petitioners were sentenced to death. The application of the death penalty in these cases was challenged as being inconsistent and discriminatory. Each Justice provided an individual opinion, but the controlling factors included the arbitrary nature of the death penalty’s imposition, its disproportionate application to certain crimes, and the disparate impact on minority and marginalized groups.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that the death penalty, as administered in these cases, was unconstitutional. The lack of consistent standards for its application meant that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, thus violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. As a result, the death sentences for the petitioners were vacated.

Detailed IRAC Outline


The detailed issue at hand is whether the death penalty procedures, in this case, violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments due to their arbitrary and discriminatory application, potentially constituting cruel and unusual punishment.


The principles guiding the ruling included:

  1. Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
  2. Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and equal protection under the law.
  3. Precedent cases that considered the constitutionality of the death penalty and the requirements for its fair application.


  1. Facts:
    • Furman was burglarizing a private home when a family member discovered him. He attempted to flee, and in doing so, tripped and fell. The gun he was carrying went off, killing the resident. The other two cases involved rape and murder, respectively, and were also subject to the death penalty in the respective states.
  2. Individual Opinions:
    • Justices issued separate concurrences and dissents, emphasizing different aspects of the constitutional analysis.
    • Justices Brennan and Marshall argued that the death penalty itself was unconstitutional in all circumstances under the Eighth Amendment.
    • Other Justices focused on the arbitrary nature of its imposition. They were concerned that there were no consistent standards guiding when the death penalty was applied, leading to arbitrary and discriminatory results.
  3. Arbitrariness and Discrimination:
    • Evidence was presented showing significant disparities in the application of the death penalty, often influenced by the race of the victim and the accused, and the socio-economic status of the defendants, which suggested a discriminatory pattern.
  4. Proportionality:
    • The Court examined whether the punishment was proportional to the crime committed, which is a key component of Eighth Amendment analysis.


The Supreme Court’s ruling invalidated the death penalty statutes at issue, holding that the arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court mandated that for the death penalty to be constitutional, more consistent and fair procedures must be established to guide its application. This decision effectively suspended the death penalty nationwide until states reformed their death penalty statutes to address the concerns raised by the Court.

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