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Schick v. Reed

Furman V. Georgia Did Not Apply

Schick's most inventive argument concerned Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 Supreme Court decision that struck down 39 state capital punishment laws as unconstitutional. Following that decision, all pending death sentences were automatically commuted to simple life imprisonment--with parole eligibility. Schick claimed that his "death sentence"--as commuted by President Eisenhower--should have reverted to this sentence as well. Chief Justice Burger was not persuaded:

It is correct that pending death sentences not carried out prior to Furman were thereby set aside without conditions such as were attached to petitioner's commutation. However, petitioner's death sentence was not pending in 1972 because it had long since been commuted.

The dissenters, led by Justice Marshall, did not disagree with Chief Justice Burger's determination that the president had the right to grant a conditional commutation of sentence. However, they strongly disagreed on the other two points, claiming that the Furman decision required the substitution of a simple life sentence, and that the no-parole condition was "extra legal" and thus not within the scope of the president's powers.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Schick v. Reed - Significance, The Lower Court Rulings, The President Can Commute With Conditions, Furman V. Georgia Did Not Apply