KEY FEATURES • A brief introduction to the U.S. judicial system and to the public policy dimension of judicial decisions provides context for the material. • Criminal and regulatory laws are presented with contrasting views on various contemporary public policy issues, including assault weapons, hate crimes, stand your ground laws, police use of deadly force, and much more. • A question for debate and learning objectives appear at the beginning of each chapter. The debate format features contemporary topical issues that engage students and ask them to consider various points of view. • Brief essays introduce students to each debate and put the issue into context to help students understand how policy issues arise in criminal justice and law. • Summaries of the positions follow the debate sections to ensure students have a clear understanding of the contrasting arguments. • “You Decide” exercises and discussion questions appear at the end of each debate to give students the opportunity to apply what they read to new and novel situations.

Capital Punishment: The Death Penalty

4.3 Capital Punishment: The Death Penalty

Does the Death Penalty Violate the Eighth Amendment Prohibition on Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Learning Objectives

  • Know the meaning of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Appreciate how the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment limits the application of capital punishment.
  • Understand Justice Stephen Breyer’s arguments against capital punishment.
  • Know Justice Antonin Scalia’s arguments against capital punishment.

Oppose the Death Penalty

Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting, Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)

Support the Death Penalty

Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring, Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)

Justice Clarence Thomas, concurring, Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)


The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Courts have held that the amendment prohibits punishments that were prohibited ...

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