Published on: Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On Monday, February 27, 2017, the Supreme Court denied cert in Reed v. Louisiana (No. 16-656), which challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty.  At issue was whether the imposition of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Petitioners argued that the "evolving standards of decency reflect that the death penalty is unnecessary and excessive" considering the number of jurisdictions no longer have the death penalty.  In addition, petitioners contended that the death penalty "no longer furthers any valid penological purpose, vitiating its legitimacy as a punishment", noting that race continues to play a role in capital punishment.  For the Petition, see here. Justice Breyer would have granted the petition for cert due to the "arbitrary role that geography plays in the imposition of the death penalty."  Justice Breyer explained that Reed was sentenced to death in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, "a county that in recent history has apparently sentenced more people to death per capita than any other county in the United States."