Rudolph v. Alabama/Dissent Goldberg

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

375 U.S. 889

Rudolph  v.  Alabama

Mr. Justice GOLDBERG, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice BRENNAN join, dissenting:

I would grant certiorari in the case and in Snider v. Cunningham, 84 S.Ct. 154, to consider whether the Eighth and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution permit the imposition of the death penalty on a convicted rapist who has neither taken nor endangered human life.

(1) In light of the trend both in this country and throughout the world against punishing rape by death, [1] does the imposition of the death penalty by those States which retain it for rape violate 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of [our] maturing society,' [2] or 'standards of decency more or less universally accepted?' [3]

(2) Is the taking of human life to protect a value other than human life consistent with the constitutional proscription against 'punishments which by their excessive * * * severity are greatly disproportioned to the offenses charged?' [4]

(3) Can the permissible aims of punishment (e. g., deterrence, isolation, rehabilitation) [5] be achieved as effectively by punishing rape less severely than by death (e. g., by life imprisonment); [6] if so, does the imposition of the death penalty for rape constitute 'unnecessary cruelty?' [7]


  1. The United Nations recently conducted a survey on the laws, regulations and practices relating to capital punishment throughout the world. In addition to the United States, 65 countries and territories responded.
  2. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S.Ct. 590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (opinion of Warren, C. J., joined by Justices Black, Douglas, and Whittaker).
  3. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459, 469, 67 S.Ct. 374, 91 L.Ed. 422 (Frankfurther, J., concurring). See Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 373, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793:
  4. Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 371, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793. Cf. Lambert v. California, 355 U.S. 225, 231, 78 S.Ct. 240, 2 L.Ed.2d 228 (dissenting opinion of Frankfurter, J.).
  5. See e. g., Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 93 L.Ed. 1337; Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 111, 78 S.Ct. 590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (concurring opinion of Brennan, J.); Blyew v. United States, 13 Wall. 581, 600, 20 L.Ed. 638.
  6. The United Nations Report on Capital Punishment noted: 'In Canada, rape ceased to be punishable with death in 1954: it is reported that there were 37 convictions for rape in 1950, 44 in 1953 and only 27 in 1954, the year of abolition; from 1957 to 1959 a steady decrease in convictions was noted (from 56 to 44), while in the same period the population of Canada increased by 27 percent.' United Nations, Capital Punishment, supra, note 1, at 54-55.
  7. Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 370, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793. See Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 677, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (concurring opinion of Douglas, J.).

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).