Repudiating the Narrowing Rule in Capital Sentencing

46 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2013

See all articles by Scott Howe

Scott Howe

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Date Written: 2012


This Article proposes a modest reform of Eighth Amendment law governing capital sentencing to spur major reform in the understanding of the function of the doctrine. The article urges the Supreme Court to renounce a largely empty mandate known as the “narrowing” rule and the rhetoric of equality that has accompanied it. By doing so, the Court could speak more truthfully about the important but more limited function that its capital-sentencing doctrine actually pursues, which is to ensure that no person receives the death penalty who does not deserve it. The Court could also speak more candidly than it has since Furman v. Georgia about the problem of inequality that has continued to pervade capital selection. If the Court remains unwilling to strike down unequal death-penalty systems, it should acknowledge the inequality and explain that the problem addressed by the Eighth Amendment is not inconsistency but retributive excess.

Keywords: Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Eighth Amendment, Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Capital Sentencing, Furman v. Georgia, Inequality, Deserts Limitation, Narrowing Rule

Suggested Citation

Howe, Scott, Repudiating the Narrowing Rule in Capital Sentencing (2012). Brigham Young University Law Review, p. 1477, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Scott Howe (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States

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