People v. Anderson




California Supreme Court

Citation and Year

493 P.2d 880 (1972)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

CAL. CONST. art. 1, § 17 (“cruel or unusual punishments”)

Nature of Case

After both a jury and, after a second penalty phase, a judge, sentenced Robert Page Anderson to death for first degree murder, he challenged capital punishment as “cruel or unusual” under California’s state constitution.


The court held “that capital punishment is both cruel and unusual as those terms are defined under article I, section 6, of the California Constitution, and that therefore death may not be exacted as punishment for crime in this state.”


First, the court found the disjunctive to be significant: “the California Constitution prohibits imposition of the death penalty if, judged by contemporary standards, it is either cruel or has become an unusual punishment.” Then, as in the Connecticut ruling that would follow, the court found that as of 1972 capital punishment was both “cruel” in light of “contemporary standards” of decency, and that “the death penalty cannot be justified as furthering any of the accepted purposes of punishments.” Finally, the court concluded that the death penalty “can no longer escape characterization as ‘unusual’ punishment,” as “the repudiation of the death penalty in this country is reflected in a world-wide trend towards abolition.”