The Eighth Amendment bars not only those punishments that are "barbaric" but also those that are "excessive" in relation to the crime committed. A punishment is "excessive" and unconstitutional if it (1) makes no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and hence is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering; or (2) is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime. A punishment might fail the test on either ground.
Defendant was convicted of rape and sentenced to death by a jury. The state supreme court affirmed both the conviction and sentence. Defendant sought review of the judgment of the Georgia Supreme Court, which affirmed his conviction for rape and a jury-returned death sentence. The court granted defendant a writ of certiorari on the limited claim that the punishment of death for rape violates the Eighth Amendment. The judgment of the state supreme court upholding the death sentence was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings
Does a death sentence for a rape conviction violate the Eighth Amendment?
After conducting an examination of recent death penalty cases that invoked the Eighth Amendment, as well as the trend of state legislatures to pass or repeal laws concerning death sentences for persons convicted of rape, the court held that a sentence of death was grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment for the crime of rape. It did not matter that Ga. Code Ann. § 26-2001 (1972) required the existence of an aggravating circumstance in order for the jury to return a death sentence. Imposition of the death penalty for rape cases was cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Eighth Amendment.