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Coker v. Georgia

Nothing Left To Lose

Justice Burger, joined by Justice Rehnquist, filed a scathing dissenting opinion. Burger outlined Coker's criminal history, noting that he had raped and stabbed to death one young woman; kidnapped, raped, and beat nearly to death another young woman; and, after his escape from prison, raped, threatened with death, and kidnapped the woman from Waycross, Georgia. The ruling that Coker could not be executed, Burger wrote, "prevents the State from imposing any effective punishment upon Coker for his latest rape . . . [and] bars Georgia from guaranteeing its citizens that they will suffer no further attacks by this habitual rapist." Burger agreed that he "accept[ed] that the Eighth Amendment's concept of disproportionality bars the death penalty for minor crimes. But rape is not a minor crime . . . " Rather, he wrote later in the opinion:

A rapist not only violates a victim's privacy and personal integrity, but inevitably causes serious psychological as well as physical harm in the process. The long-range effect upon the victim's life and health is likely to be irreparable . . . it is destructive of the human personality . . . To speak blandly, as the plurality does, of rape victims who are "unharmed" or to classify the human outrage of rape, as does Mr. Justice Powell, in terms of "excessively brutal," versus "moderately brutal," takes too little account of the profound suffering the crime imposes upon the victims and their loved ones.

Burger concluded that "if murder is properly punishable by death, rape should be also, if that is the considered judgment of the legislators."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Coker v. Georgia - Significance, On Appeal, The Verdict, Nothing Left To Lose, Ginsburg Revisits Her Brief