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Copyright (c) 2000 Ohio State Law Journal
Ohio State Law Journal

NOTE: Allowing Victims' Families to View Executions: The Eighth Amendment and Society's Justifications for Punishment


61 Ohio St. L.J. 935


Doug Janicik



"I'll watch you die, boy." 1

This threat was yelled by Randy Ertman as he departed the sentencing of the man who murdered his daughter. But this was more than just a random threat declared in rage--with states permitting families to view the executions of those who murder their loved ones, these infamous words have become a reality. In fact, a number of states have passed statutes granting the victim's family the right to be present at the execution. This Note will show that "right to view" statutes are actually a form of punishment, and thus are subject to the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishments. 2

Claims that a punishment is "cruel and unusual" have typically arisen in three distinct contexts: (1) the death penalty, (2) prison sentences, and (3) prison administration. While the United States Supreme Court's approach to interpreting "cruel and unusual" in each of these contexts has not always been clear 3 --and has seemingly created three different levels of protection against "cruel and unusual" punishments--a common theme ties all the cases together. The common theme is that punishments are "cruel and unusual" when they conflict with society's justifications for punishment. No matter from which context the case arises, this inquiry has become the basis for deciding whether there is an Eighth Amendment violation; however, the Court defers--to varying extents--to the legislature's answer in the first two contexts, and conducts its own independent inquiry ...
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