Gregg v. Georgia

LOCATION: Georgia State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 74-6257
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Georgia

CITATION: 428 US 153 (1976)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1976
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1976

G. Thomas Davis - Argued the cause for the respondent
G. Hughel Harrison - By appointment of the Court, argued the cause for the petitioner
Robert H. Bork - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae
William E. James - for the State of California, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

A jury found Gregg guilty of armed robbery and murder and sentenced him to death. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence except as to its imposition for the robbery conviction. Gregg challenged his remaining death sentence for murder, claiming that his capital sentence was a "cruel and unusual" punishment that violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

This case is one of the five "Death Penalty Cases" along with Jurek v. Texas, Roberts v. Louisiana, Proffitt v. Florida, and Woodson v. North Carolina.


Is the imposition of the death sentence prohibited under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments as "cruel and unusual" punishment?

Media for Gregg v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - July 02, 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia

Warren E. Burger:

Justice Stewart.

In the first of these cases, Troy Leon Gregg, the petitioner, against the state of Georgia, there is no opinion for the Court, however Mr. Justice Powell, Mr. Justice Stevens and I have filed a joint opinion with the Clerk this morning, which because of the divisions among the court, is the prevailing decision.

In summarizing our opinion in this case I speak as much for Mr. Justice Powell and Mr. Justice Stevens as I do for myself this is I say is a joint opinion.

The issue in this case is whether the impositions of the sentence of death for the crime of murder under the law of Georgia violates the Eight and Fourteenth amendments.

The petitioner Troy Gregg was charged with committing armed robbery and murder.

In accordance with Georgia procedure and capital cases, the trial was in two stages: a guilt stage and a sentencing stage.

The evidence for the prosecution at the guilt stage established that on November 21st, 1973 the petitioner murdered and robbed two men in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and the jury at the end of the trial found that the petitioner guilty on two counts of armed robbery and murder.

At the penalty stage which took place before the same jury, the trial judge instructed the jury that it could recommend either a death sentence or a sentence of life imprisonment on each count.

The judge further charged the jury that in determining what sentence was appropriate, the jury was free to consider the facts and circumstances presented by the parties, if any, in mitigation or aggravation.

Finally, the judge instructed the jury that it would not be authorized to consider imposing the sentence of death unless it first found beyond the reasonable doubt one of three relevant statutory aggravating circumstances.

Finding two of these circumstances, the jury return verdicts of death on each count.

We consider at the outset the basic contention that the punishment of death for the crime of murder is under all circumstance, cruel and un-usual and violation of the Constitution.

For the reasons that Mr. Justice Powell will summarize thoroughly in announcing our opinion in the case of Proffitt against Florida, we reject that contention.

We therefore must consider the specific constitutionality of Georgia’s capital sentencing procedures.

In the wake of this Court’s judgment in the Furman case four years ago, Georgia narrowed the class of murderers subject to capital punishment by specifying ten statutory aggravating circumstances, at least one of which must be found by the jury to exist beyond the reasonable doubt before a death sentence can ever be imposed.

In addition the jury is authorized to consider any other appropriate aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

The jury is not required to find any mitigating circumstance in order to make a recommendation of mercy that is binding on Trial Court, but it must find a statutory aggravating circumstance before recommending a sentence of death.

These procedures require the jury to consider the circumstances of the crime and other criminal before it recommends sentence.

No longer can a Georgia jury do as Furman’s jury did, reach in finding of the defendants guilt and then without guidance or direction decide whether he should live or die.

Instead the jury’s attention is directed to the specific circumstances of the crime.

Was it committed in the course of another capital felony?

Was it committed for money?

Was it committed upon a peace officer, or judicial officer?

Was it committed in a particularly heinous way or in a manner that endangered the lives of many persons?

In addition, the jury’s attention is focused on the characteristics of the person who committed the crime.

Does he have a record of prior convictions for capital offences?

Are there any special facts about this defendant that mitigate against imposing capital punishment such as his youth or his emotional state at the time of the commission of the crime.

As a result, while some jury discretion still exists, the discretion to be exercised is controlled by player and objective standards so as to produce and so far as possible non discriminatory application.

As an important additional safeguard against arbitrariness and caprice, the Georgia statutory scheme provides for automatic appeal of all death sentences to the state’s Supreme Court.

That court is required by statute to review each sentence of death and to determine whether it was imposed under the influence of passion or prejudice, whether the evidence supports the jury’s finding of the statutory aggravating circumstance, and whether the sentence is disproportionate compare to those sentences imposed in similar cases.