In 9 separate opinions, and by a vote of 5 to 4, the Court held that Georgia's death penalty statute, which gave the jury complete sentencing discretion, could result in arbitrary sentencing. The Court held that the scheme of punishment under the statute was therefore "cruel and unusual" and violated the Eighth Amendment. Thus, on June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court effectively voided 40 death penalty statutes, thereby commuting the sentences of 629 death row inmates around the country and suspending the death penalty because existing statutes were no longer valid.
The Death Penalty Today
In April 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed the Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions . The resolution calls on countries which have not abolished the death penalty to restrict its use of the death penalty, including not imposing it on juvenile offenders and limiting the number of offenses for which it can be imposed. Ten countries, including the United States, China, Pakistan, Rwanda and Sudan voted against the resolution. (New York Times, 4/29/99). Each year since 1997, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has passed a resolution calling on countries that have not abolished the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions. In April 2004, the resolution was co-sponsored by 76 UN member states. (Amnesty International, 2004).
In the United States numbers of death sentences are steadily declining from 300 in 1998 to 106 in 2009.
When I examined the cost of Florida’s death penalty many years ago, I concluded that seeing a death sentence through to execution costs at least six times as much as a life sentence. A more recent study by a federal commission pegged the difference in the costs of the trials at eight times as much. Duke University professor Philip J. Cook studied North Carolina’s system and concluded that the Tar Heel State could save $11 million per year by abolishing the death penalty. California’s system incurs excess costs estimated at some $200 million per year . From Kansas to Maryland , Tennessee to Pennsylvania , studies have all reached similar conclusions.