Dawson v. State




Georgia Supreme Court

Citation and Year

554 S.E.2d 137 (2001)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

Ga. Const. art. I, § 1, ¶ XVII (“nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”)

Nature of Case

This case challenged Georgia’s prescribed method of execution—death by electrocution.


Execution via the electric chair constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment under Georgia’s state antipunishment clause, and is therefore unconstitutional.


First, the court explained that whether a punishment is cruel and unusual under the federal 8th Amendment is not dispositive of whether the same punishment is cruel and unusual under art. I, § 1, ¶ XVII of the Georgia Constitution. The court explained that federal constitutional rights provide the minimum, not the maximum, protection afforded to the citizens of Georgia.

The court then explained that “whether a particular punishment is cruel and unusual is not a static concept, but instead changes in recognition of the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” The court said that to assess the relevant “standards of decency” on a state constitutional claim, the court would look inward for state-based indicators of evolving standards, including legislative reforms toward leniency and less severe punishments. In this case, for example, Georgia lawmakers had prospectively abolished the electric chair for future executions.

Here, the court found that death by electrocution is unconstitutional based on four findings: First, the court noted that “the evidence establishes that it is not possible to determine whether unnecessary pain is inflicted in the execution of the death sentence.” Second, in any case, the electric chair “unnecessarily mutilate[s] or disfigure[s] the condemned inmate’s body,” regardless of “whether or not the electrocution protocols are correctly followed and the electrocution equipment functions properly.” Third, the court held that the electric chair is cruel and unusual “in light of viable alternatives which minimize or eliminate the pain and/or mutilation.” Finally, the court found that the state legislature’s action abolishing electrocution as a future method of execution objectively indicates the prevailing condemnation by the people of Georgia of that particular method of punishment.