LOCATION: City of Philadelphia
DOCKET NO.: 75-5444
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Georgia
CITATION: 433 US 584 (1977)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1977
B. Dean Grindle, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondent
David E. Kendall - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Facts of the case
In 1974, Erlich Anthony Coker, serving a number of sentences for murder, rape, kidnapping, and assault, escaped from prison. He broke into a Georgia couple's home, raped the woman and stole the family's car. The woman was released shortly thereafter, without further injuries. The Georgia courts sentenced Coker to death on the rape charge.
Was the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of rape a form of cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment?
Media for Coker v. GeorgiaAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1977 in Coker v. Georgia
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 29, 1977 in Coker v. Georgia
Warren E. Burger:
The judgments and opinion of the Court in 75-5 -- 5444, Coker against Georgia will be announced by Mr. Justice White.
Byron R. White:
In Gregg against Georgia, this Court held that a death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment when imposed for the crime of murder.
The question on this case concerns the death penalty for rape.
Ehrlich Anthony Coker escaped from a Georgia prison while serving long sentences for murder, rape and kidnapping.
He then committed additional crimes, among them, rape and armed robbery.
He was convicted of both of those crimes and sentenced to death for rape.
The death sentence was imposed in accordance with those procedures which the Court upheld in the Gregg case, and only after a finding by the jury that the rape is committed in -- with aggravating circumstances, namely that Coker had been previously convicted of a capital crime and that the rape was convicted while committing still another capital crime, namely armed robbery.
Coker's conviction was affirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court, that Court rejecting his claim that the death penalty was unconstitutional.
We reverse that judgment in so far as it imposes the death penalty.
Seven justices have concluded that the death penalty imposed in this case was cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.
There is no single opinion for the Court supporting that judgment.
I have filed an opinion which is joined by my Brothers, Stewart, Blackmun and Stevens, explaining while -- why we think that the death penalty is disproportionate and hence, unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment for rape under any circumstances.
Justices Brennan and Marshall concurring the judgment since as they have said before they have concluded that capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment under any circumstances for any crime.
Mr. Justice Powell also concurs in the judgment on the grounds that the death penalty is cruel and unusual in the circumstances of this case, although it might not be in other instances of rape.
Mr. Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Rehnquist has joined.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice White.