In 1976, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision known as Gregg v. Georgia, reinstating the death penalty, which it had found unconstitutional only four years earlier. In the Gregg decision, the justices predicted that new state laws would eliminate the arbitrary and unprincipled death sentences that the Court had found were commonplace only four years earlier when it ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. In a 7-2 opinion the justices offered this optimistic pronouncement. "No longer can a jury wantonly and freakishly impose the death sentence; it is always circumscribed by the legislative guidelines."
A quarter century later, the United States has executed more than 780 people. Another three thousand seven hundred are on death rows across the country. But while the states have adopted new instructions to guide jurors in making life or death decisions, many jurors appear to be just as confused about the law as they were when the high court put the death penalty on hold.
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