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Pulley v. Harris - Significance

sentence review court death


R. Pulley, Warden


Robert Alton Harris

Petitioner's Claim

The failure of the state to provide for a judicial review of the proportionality of his death sentence was unconstitutional and required reversal of the sentence.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Michael D. Wellington

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Anthony G. Amsterdam

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

23 January 1984


The Constitution does not require that a court review a sentence of death to confirm that it has been imposed in similar cases.


Although most states require a court reviewing a death penalty sentence to determine that the sentence is proportional compared to similar crimes, such review is not required because of the holding in the Harris case. A later decision in Harris' case also stands for the proposition that use of gas chambers for executions does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Related Cases

  • Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).
  • Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).
  • Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976).
  • Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262 (1976).
  • Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862 (1983).
  • Gomez v. California, 503 U.S. 653 (1992).

Further Readings

  • Caminker, Evan, and Erwin Chemerinsky. "The Lawless Execution of Robert Alton Harris." Yale Law Journal, October 1992.
  • Kaplan, John. "The Problem of Capital Punishment." University of Illinois Law Review, 1983.
  • "The Modern View of Capital Punishment." American Criminal Law Review, summer 1997.
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