Capital Punishment Death Penalty in Georgia

Capital Punishment Death Penalty in Georgia

Capial Punishment in Georgia

Capital punishment, the death penalty execution, is a Constitutionally legal form of punishment for requiring execution by lethal injection for certain highly egregious crimes. To qualify as a death-penalty case there are specific standards and conditions that must exist.

Death Penalty Cases and Executions

Death penalty cases in Georgia are relatively rare. After years of executions being halted in Georgia, the State reinstituted the practice in 1973. Since that time, less than 100 convicted felons have actually been put to death by the State.

The death penalty continues to be a hotly contested form of punishment in the United States. The public support for capital punishment remains significant in 2021, and is a viable punishment in 25 states.

Regarding public opinion on the death penalty, a Gallup Poll on Life Without Parole vs. Death Penalty reported; “Over the years, support for the sentence of Life Without Parole as an alternative to the death penalty has risen to the point where now the country is about evenly split between capital punishment and LWOP. In 1994, only 32% favored LWOP, with 50% favoring death. In 2006, support for LWOP had grown to 48%. In 2010, LWOP support registered 46% and the death penalty registered 49%. In 2014, results remained about the same: LWOP 45% and death penalty 50%.”1

In Georgia all executions are carried out utilizing lethal injection. Lethal injection is basically a controlled process of intravenously injecting a person with a drug that results in the convicted person becoming unconscious, then a failure to breathe which culminates in heart arrhythmia.

Criteria Required for a Capital Case

In Georgia, capital punishment may be used only if the convicted person is 17 years old and older. The prosecuting authority is not required to seek the death penalty in any particular case. Truthfully, there are some intangible, often undisclosed, factors that can affect whether or not a prosecuting body chooses to seek the death penalty. Among these factors are:

  • Public opinion and perceptions that affect elected officials
  • The enormous cost to the state or county for a death penalty trial
  • The difficulty in convicting a person represented by a stellar law firm

There are cases that may normally seem like a capital crime but factors such as the mental illness of the accused may cause the prosecution to not seek the death penalty. In cases where the mental capacity may be in question, the defense counsel needs to establish a reasonable belief that a defendant’s mental issues made it virtually impossible for them to comprehend the severity of their actions. The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly rejected arguments to shield most mentally ill people, limiting such protection to only persons found to be legally insane.

The Criminal Justice research website published an article on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty. The article puts forth the following belief, “The “evolving standards” guideline, set forth by Trop v. Dulles (1958), is generally measured by factors including the public’s opinion and existing state legislation. For instance, the Court considered it relevant that, at the time of the Ford ruling, no state permitted the execution of the mentally ill. The Court then detailed the common law and historical evidence indicating that executing the mentally ill has long been rejected in American society. Finally, the Court determined that executing the mentally ill serves no state interest and is not a deterrent to crime. As such, it is cruel and unusual punishment.”2

Definition of Capital Homicide

Per the Findlaw website, the Georgia definition of capital homicide is as follows; “Murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping committed by a person with prior record of conviction for capital felony; murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping committed while engaged in commission of other capital felony; knowingly created grave risk of death to multiple persons in public place by use of weapon/device; murder committed for financial gain; judicial officer, district attorney or solicitor (or formers) because of exercise of duties; committed as agent of another; outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman; against peace officer, corrections officer, fireman while performing duties; offender escaped from lawful custody/confinement; avoiding lawful arrest”3

The DeathPenaltyInfo.org website has published information that validates the belief that the death penalty is almost always for crimes involving murder(s). In particular, almost 50% of all death penalty sentences in the United States include the murder of a child as an aggravating circumstance. The online article further stated, “All of the prisoners currently on death row and all of those executed in the modern era of the death penalty were convicted of murder. Historically, the death penalty was widely used for rape, particularly against black defendants with white victims. When the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the Supreme Court left open the possibility of imposing the death penalty for offenses other than murder, such as rape or even armed robbery. However, the Court soon ruled that the death penalty would be unconstitutional for the rape of an adult where no death had occurred. T”4

Georgia Code Title 17. Criminal Procedure § 17-10-30

Georgia’s death penalty statute is defined in Georgia Code Title 17. Criminal Procedure § 17-10-30.

  • (a) The death penalty may be imposed for the offenses of aircraft hijacking or treason in any case.
  • (b) In all cases of other offenses for which the death penalty may be authorized, the judge shall consider, or he shall include in his instructions to the jury for it to consider, any mitigating circumstances or aggravating circumstances otherwise authorized by law and any of the following statutory aggravating circumstances which may be supported by the evidence:
  • (1) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was committed by a person with a prior record of conviction for a capital felony;
  • (2) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony or aggravated battery, or the offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of burglary in any degree or arson in the first degree;
  • (3) The offender, by his act of murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping, knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon or device which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person;
  • (4) The offender committed the offense of murder for himself or another, for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value;
  • (5) The murder of a judicial officer, former judicial officer, district attorney or solicitor-general, or former district attorney, solicitor, or solicitor-general was committed during or because of the exercise of his or her official duties;
  • (6) The offender caused or directed another to commit murder or committed murder as an agent or employee of another person;
  • (7) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim;
  • (8) The offense of murder was committed against any peace officer, corrections employee, or firefighter while engaged in the performance of his official duties;
  • (9) The offense of murder was committed by a person in, or who has escaped from, the lawful custody of a peace officer or place of lawful confinement;
  • (10) The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or custody in a place of lawful confinement, of himself or another;
  • (11) The offense of murder, rape, or kidnapping was committed by a person previously convicted of rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, or aggravated sexual battery;  or
  • (12) The murder was committed during an act of domestic terrorism.
  • (c) The statutory instructions as determined by the trial judge to be warranted by the evidence shall be given in charge and in writing to the jury for its deliberation. The jury, if its verdict is a recommendation of death, shall designate in writing, signed by the foreman of the jury, the aggravating circumstance or circumstances which it found beyond a reasonable doubt. In nonjury cases, the judge shall make such designation. Except in cases of treason or aircraft hijacking, unless at least one of the statutory aggravating circumstances enumerated in subsection (b) of this Code section is so found, the death penalty shall not be imposed.

While murders in Georgia are prosecuted with a vengeance, very few cases ever become death penalty cases. In any situation involving murder charges the accused should hire an exceptionally skilled criminal defense law firm to affect the best possible outcome.

FOOTNOTES

  • 1 DeathPenaltyInfo.org, “Reconsidering the Death Penalty in Time of Economic Crisis”, October 12, 2017, Available from DeathPenaltyInfo.org
  • 2 iResearchNet, “Mental Illness and the Death Penalty”, September 28, 2015, Available from iResearchNet
  • 3 Findlaw Team, “Georgia Capital Punishment Laws”, March 2, 2018, Available from Findlaw
  • 4 DeathPenaltyInfo.org, “Crimes Punishable by Death”, June 13, 2019, Available from DeathPenaltyInfo.org