both mandatory sentencing statutes. Writing for the majority in the lead case of Woodson v. North Carolina (see Document 62C), Justice Stewart explained that historically, mandatory statutes had led juries to acquit guilty defendants deemed not deserving of a death sentence (thus allowing the possibility of arbitrary death sentences), and that mandatory statutes did not allow the sentencing jury to take mitigating circumstances into account. As a result of the Court's decision, about 170 death row prisoners in North Carolina and Louisiana had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment ( Schwed 1983:152).
Though still considered somewhat ambiguous ( Weisberg 1984:322), the Court's ruling in these five cases gave both the states and Congress a much clearer vision of what types of capital punishment statutes would be considered constitutional ( Bedau 1977:115).
Judgment of the Court and opinion of MR. JUSTICE STEWART, MR. JUSTICE POWELL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, announced by MR. JUSTICE STEWART. . . .
. . .
We now hold that the punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution. . . .
. . .
The imposition of the death penalty for the crime of murder has a long history of acceptance both in the United States and in England. . . .
It is apparent from the text of the Constitution itself that the existence of capital punishment was accepted by the Framers. At the time the Eighth Amendment was ratified, capital punishment was a common sanction in every State. Indeed, the First Congress of the United States enacted legislation providing death as the penalty for specified crimes. . . .
Four years ago, the petitioners in Furman and its companion cases predicated their argument primarily upon the asserted proposition that standards of decency had evolved to the point where capital punishment no longer could be tolerated. The petitioners in those cases said, in effect, that the evolutionary process had come to an end, and that standards of decency required that the Eighth Amendment be construed finally as
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Publication information: Book title: Capital Punishment in the United States:A Documentary History. Contributors: Bryan Vila - Editor, Cynthia Morris - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 162.
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