Judicial Decision Making, Case Study Example

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Case Study

The cause of disagreement in Coker Vs Georgia was the offence of rape committed, the circumstances, and the mode of punishment. Rape is a criminal offence mostly defined as having carnal knowledge of a person without the person’s consent. It is a serious offence characterized by unlawful sexual intercourse involving sexual penetration, force, and lack of consent. It causes harm to the victim through physical and psychological damage.

In the case of Coker Vs Georgia 1977, the appellant Anthony Coker appealed Supreme Court of Georgia’s death sentence before the U.S Supreme Court. Coker was serving a multiple life sentence for rape, murder, assault and kidnapping before he escaped from jail and gain entry to a private home. He raped Elnita the wife, stole the couple’s car and drove with her threatening to kill her if the police intervened. Coker was apprehended and the Jury sentenced him to death for raping Elnita decision sustained by Supreme Court of Georgia. U.S Supreme Court later revoked this ruling citing the unconstitutionality of death sentence as a punishment for rape. It argued that the death sentence was unconstitutional, excessive, and cruel.

The two judicial decisions bases on the evaluation of whether a crime of rape committed with another felony by a criminal with a serious criminal record deserves a death sentence. Rape cases make one of the serious crimes in common law and usually attract public outcry, protest by human rights activists and persons in authority. Despite its seriousness and moral implication, rape may not call for execution of the offender. Death sentences are mainly preferred in cases where the accused is responsible for murder (Karp, 1978). These goes in line with the intention of punishment, which is to correct and rehabilitate offenders. Courts give tough punishment to act as a form of retribution and deterrence. However, the courts in Coker’s case rule that the death sentence was too excessive, a decision influenced by a number of factors.

A move away from the death penalty for rape cases by various states influenced the decision of the court not to confirm death sentence in this case. The statistical data of states abolishing execution of rape offenders and the pursuit of civil liberties did influence the use of inherent powers of the court to overturn previous decision.

The court also viewed death sentence for rape cases as disproportionately excessive. Punishment is said to be so if its intention is not to meet its accepted objectives but instead inflicts pain and suffering. It is also so if in comparison with the severity of the crime, it is substantially out of proportion. The raping of an adult woman though serious did not warrant execution. Kennedy Vs Louisiana (2007), observes that even if the victim is a child, death penalty should not be pronounced.

The court viewed the prior sentence as unconstitutional for its violation of the Eighth Amendment articles on civil liberty. This amendment outlaws cruel and unusual punishment such as the death penalty as seen in the case of Furman Vs Georgia (1972). In this case, U.S Supreme Court found the death penalty applied impulsively as unconstitutional. Justice Potter Steward in his obiter dicta equated it with lightning strike.

In determining what makes cruel and unusual punishment, one makes an analysis of method used and amount of punishment. Method used for example; excessive force may be cruel at the time of its adoption while amount may be proportionately excessive in the context of the death penalty. Proportionality analysis guided the decision in Solem Vs Helm (1983). In this case, the decision to sentenced Solem to life imprisonment without parole because he had six prior felony convictions, was overturned. It was found that the felony committed was disproportionate to life sentence without parole.

The courts have overtime tried to interpret the constitution and respect civil rights while making judicial decisions. The decision in Coker Vs Georgia has led to invalidation of death sentence even in some categories of murder cases. This includes murders committed by mentally retarded persons as well as those below sixteen years of age. It has contributed in adding value and respect to human life despite crimes committed.

 

References

Ann, C. (1975). Death sentences By the Supreme Court. New York, NY: New York Times

David J. Karp, “Coker v. Georgia: Disproportionate Punishment and the Death Penalty for Rape,” Columbia Law Review 78 (December 1978): 1714-730.

Karp, J. (1978). Coker Vs Georgia: Disproportionate Punishment and the Death Penalty for Rape. Colombia: Colombia Law Review

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