The Eighth Amendment and the Death Penalty

If the people are protected against cruel and unusual punishments, where does the death penalty come in?

Eighth Amendment

Photo by: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” No one convicted of a crime should face punishments that are considered severe or unfair. Being sentenced to death seems to be the grimmest and harshest sentence possible though, so why is it permissible under the protection of the Eighth Amendment?

Death penalty

In the early 1970’s the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Within a few short years however, during the case of Gregg V. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled by a wide majority that the death penalty under new statutes were no longer unconstitutional. Under the new guidelines, the trials of someone facing the death penalty must be a two part, with the first determining guilt or innocence and if found guilty, the second step to decide prison or death.

Is Utah pro-death penalty?

Photo by: Humphrey King

The state of Utah wasted no time in welcoming the death penalty back. In fact, Utah was one of the first states to begin perform an execution after the nationwide overhaul of capital punishment. Utah is also the only state to still have the questionable firing squad as an option of carrying out the death penalty when unable to “obtain the substance or substances necessary to conduct an execution by lethal intravenous injection” according to Utah Code 77-18-5.5. Many death penalty activists in Utah are currently fighting to cease the death penalty in Utah on the next legislative session. While many claim it is truly unconstitutional to take the life of another person under law, others admit the death penalty with the cost of the continuous appeals is just too expensive to support.

Capital felonies

Until Utah lawmakers decide to abolish the death penalty, Utah Code 76-3-206 states: “A person who has pled guilty to or been convicted of a capital felony [such as murder] shall be sentenced in accordance with this section [and if the person] was 18 years of age or older at the time the offense was committed, the sentence shall be:

(i) An indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life; or
(ii) On or after April 27, 1992, life in prison without parole”;
(iii) [or the ultimate punishment,]  Death”.

Aggravated Arson and Murder Charges for Estranged Husband of Salt Lake City Restaurateur

The estranged husband of a Salt Lake City restaurateur and prominent LGBT activist was charged with aggravated arson and murder in connection with a deadly home fire.

Sunday morning blaze

Aggravated Arson

Photo by: John Goode

Shortly after 1:00am on Sunday, May 23, 2016 a fire was reported at the home of John Williams, a retired partner of Gastronomy Inc. who served the company for over four decades. Neighbors could hear screaming for help from a top story room, but fire fighters were unable to get Williams out in time. 72 year old John Williams was pronounced dead at the scene.

Cause of fire suspicious

Authorities originally stated that the fire was suspicious and likely not an accident. During the investigation which had been determined to be aggravated arson, witnesses claimed to see Williams’ estranged husband, 47 year old Craig Crawford near the home shortly after the fire was reported. According to court documents, Williams filed for a divorce from Crawford earlier this month and attempted to get a restraining order as well. No more information has been released regarding the couple’s marital issues, yet Crawford was considered an initial suspect early on in the investigation.

Aggravated arson

According to Utah Code: “A person is guilty of aggravated arson if by means of fire or explosives he intentionally and unlawfully damages: a habitable structure; or any structure or vehicle when any person not a participant in the offense is in the structure or vehicle.” Aggravated arson is a first degree felony, punishable by five years to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000.

Aggravated murder

Photo by: Christopher

Photo by: Christopher

Since a death occurred because of the fire, Crawford is also facing aggravated murder or criminal homicide. Aggravated murder has the potential to be a capital felony if prosecutors file notice of intent to seek the death penalty. If not, it will be an additional first degree felony. Crawford is currently being held on 1 million dollar bail.