The evolution of capital punishment

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Cost of Justice

The Indiana Lawyer takes a historical look at how the death penalty system has evolved during the past 40 years and how Indiana has amended its practices and procedures through the decades.

The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the death penalty with its ruling in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), holding that all state death penalty sentencing statutes were unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause because they allowed for arbitrary and capricious imposition.

The Indiana General Assembly enacted a new death penalty sentencing statute, but a 1976 SCOTUS decision in Woodson v. North Carolina struck down a similar statute. The Indiana Supreme Court later struck down this state’s revised death penalty statute.

Now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens joined with a U.S. Supreme Court majority in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), which overruled Furman v. Georgia and helped pave the way for states to re-enact capital punishment.

Indiana reintroduced capital punishment, and that sentencing statute remains in effect today.

Indiana saw its first execution following the death penalty’s re-enactment. The defendant was Steven Judy, who’d been sentenced a year earlier but waived non-mandatory appeals.

Indiana increased the minimum age of a person eligible for execution from 10 to 16.

The state General Assembly created the Indiana Public Defender Commission to set standards for capital attorneys, and it authorized the commission to reimburse counties 50 percent of defense costs in capital cases.

The Indiana Supreme Court established Criminal Rule 24 to set mandatory standards for appointing and compensating trial and appellate counsel in death penalty cases.

The Indiana General Assembly created Life Without Parole as a sentencing option in capital murder cases, and a year later prosecutors were given the authority to ask for LWOP rather than requesting a death sentence.

The Indiana General Assembly banned the execution of the mentally retarded, a legislative decision that preceded the 2002 SCOTUS ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that held the same.

Indiana changed the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection.

Indiana increased the minimum age of a person eligible for execution from 16 to 18, a decision that preceded the 2005 SCOTUS ruling that held executing anyone under 18 was cruel and unusual.

• An American Bar Association panel of Indiana attorneys and legal scholars issued a report calling for a moratorium on the state’s death penalty on the grounds that the state lacks the ability for its appellate courts to review whether different crimes merit that penalty. Legislation followed in subsequent years, but did not gain approval.
• In honor of the late Sen. Anita Bowser (D-Michigan City), the Indiana Senate created an interim study commission to examine the issue of executing the mentally ill. That commission voted to recommend a bill that would exempt defendants identified to have serious mental illness, but no definition of that term was agreed on and a bill introduced in 2008 was not enacted. No further action has been taken.

In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), Justice Stevens voted with the majority in upholding Kentucky’s method of lethal injection because he felt bound by stare decisis. However, he issued a concurrence in that case that put him with three other former justices in concluding that state-sanctioned killing (capital punishment) is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller held a criminal justice summit at Notre Dame Law School to discuss the economic impact of capital punishment. A final report is being submitted to Indiana legislators, but no legislation was introduced in 2011 as a result of that conference.

In March, Illinois became the 16th state to ban executions, a move that came a decade after Illinois imposed a moratorium on the death penalty due to concern about wrongful convictions. This follows what other states have done on grounds of wrongful conviction and exoneration trends, fiscal considerations, or public policy changes at the state level.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.