Document Type


Publication Date



Capital punishment, Death penalty


Criminal Procedure


Forty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States deemed constitutional new death penalty laws intended to minimize the arbitrariness which led the Court to invalidate all capital sentencing statutes four years earlier in Furman v. Georgia. Over the last four decades the Court has — time and again — attempted to regulate the “machinery of death.” Looking back over the Court’s work, many observers, including two current Supreme Court justices, have questioned whether the modern death penalty has lived up to expectations set by the Court in the 1970s or if, despite 40 years of labor, the American death penalty continues to be administered in an unconstitutionally arbitrary manner. This Article presents data from South Carolina’s forty-year experiment with capital punishment and concludes that the administration of the death penalty in that state is still riddled with error and infected with racial and gender bias. It is — in short — still arbitrary after all these years. The authors maintain that the only true cure it to abolish South Carolina’s death penalty, although they do argue that lesser steps including additional safeguards and procedure may limit, but will not eliminate, some of the arbitrariness and bias which are present in the current imposition of South Carolina’s most extreme punishment.