Ehrlich Coker, an escaped felon, was convicted of rape with aggravating circumstances and sentenced to die. The Supreme Court, in a 7?2 decision, overturned the sentence. Justice BYRON R. WHITE, ina PLURALITY OPINION, argued that CAPITAL PUNISHMENT is "grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment for the crime of rape," and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, binding on the states through the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT. Justice LEWIS F. POWELL'S concurring opinion was applicable to the facts of this case only, while Justice WILLIAM J. BRENNAN and THURGOOD MARSHALL would have held the death penalty unconstitutional in any case whatsoever. Chief Justice WARREN E. BURGER and Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST dissented, arguing that Coker's sentence was within the reserved power of the State.
DENNIS J. MAHONEY