Death Penalty Question

A few months ago, there was a Canadian man who was executed in Texas for murdering a Woman there in 1975. My question - WITHOUT getting into a “Death Penalty Good!” or “No, Death Penalty Bad!” type of debate is this:

I thought that the U.S. reinstated capital punishment in 1976. If the crime took place in 1975, can you execute the criminal? Maybe I have my dates wrong, but any lawyer types with info on this would be helpful.

Death penalty bad. :wink:

Death penalty good.

No, you can’t impose a penalty ex post facto, or after the fact. The perpetrator is only subject to the penalty that existed at the time of the crime.

<1975 = no death penalty law = no execution


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

Two things:

1)I could be wrong, but wouldn’t the penalty depend not on the date/year of the crime, but on the date/year of the conviction?

2)If I remember 'Helter Skelter" correctly, the death penalty was legal prior to 1975, but was criminalized (?) for a period of time thereafter. IIRC, Charles Manson was sentenced to death, then unsentenced when the death penalty was banned. For some reason, when the DP was unbanned again, they couldn’t reinstate the penalty. And thus he comes up for parole every so often. . .

(Or maybe I’m talking out my ass?)

Life is short. Make fun of it.

  1. Time of the crime. Anything else would be unconstitutional (ex post facto law).

  2. When the death penalty was declared unconstitutional, all those on death row could not be executed, and had to have their sentences changed to life imprisonment. When it was reinstated, it was only for crimes committed under any new death penalty law passed after the reinstatement (ex post facto again). Since Manson’s crime came under the unconstitutional law, his sentence could not be changed back.

But in the early 70’s, a number of states (among them, Texas) enacted new death penalty laws designed to avoid the “cruel & unusual” designations of older laws. These laws became effective the day they were signed, and convicts could be sentenced under them. The sentences could not be carried out, however, until the Supreme Court had ruled on the new statutes, but sentences imposed for crimes committed after the new law was signed, but before the Supreme Court allowed them to stand were enforceable and have been carried out.

Sue from El Paso

Adding more than you probably want to know to what Sue said, my criminal law textbook (Criminal Law and Its Processes, edited by Kadish and Schulhofer) explains it more or less like this:

In 1972, in “Furman v. Georgia”, the U.S. Supreme Court held by a 5-4 majority that capital punishment as it was being administered at the the time was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Two of the justices (Brennan and Marshall) held that all capital punishment was unconstitutional. Three others (Douglas, Stewart, and White) took the position that it was the erratic and unpredictable nature of imposition of the death penalty that was unconstitutional. The Chief Justice, along with Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, dissented, stressing the long tradition of capital punishment in the U.S.

It was not, however, a complete and utter rejection of capital punishment. States that wanted to retain the death penalty took some time to reformulate their legislation (doing stuff like making the death penalty mandatory in certain cases) and establish clearer guidelines as to who should get death. By 1976, the U.S. Congress and at least 35 states had taken this action, effectively “legalizing” the death penalty again.
There again, I think you can make a pretty good case for the imposition of the death penalty still being pretty arbitraty in terms of race, income, etc., but that’s probably better suited to another forum.