Troy Leon GREGG, Petitioner,

State of GEORGIA
Supreme Court of the United States
428 U.S. 153 (1976)

 Judgment of the Court, and opinion of Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. Justice STEVENS, announced by Mr. Justice STEWART.

 The issue in this case is whether the imposition of the sentence of death for the crime of murder under the law of Georgia violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

* * *

[p. 187]


 We now consider whether Georgia may impose the death penalty on the petitioner in this case.

[p. 188]

 While Furman did not hold that the infliction of the death penalty Per se violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishments, it did recognize that the penalty of death is different in kind from any other punishment imposed under our system of criminal justice. Because of the uniqueness of the death penalty, Furman held that it could not be imposed under sentencing procedures that created a substantial risk that it would be inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Mr. Justice White concluded that "the death penalty is exacted with great infrequency even for the most atrocious crimes and . . . there is no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which it is imposed from the many cases in which it is not." 408 U.S., at 313, 92 S.Ct., at 2764 (concurring). Indeed, the death sentences examined by the Court in Furman were "cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightening is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of (capital crimes), many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners (in Furman were) among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed. . . . (T)he Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed." Id., at 309-310, 92 S.Ct., at 2762 (Stewart, J., concurring).

 [p. 189] Furman mandates that where discretion is afforded a sentencing body on a matter so grave as the determination of whether a human life should be taken or spared, that discretion must be suitably directed and limited so as to minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious action.

 It is certainly not a novel proposition that discretion in the area of sentencing be exercised in an informed manner. We have long recognized that "(f)or the determination of sentences, justice generally requires . . . that there be taken into account the circumstances of the offense together with the character and propensities of the offender." Pennsylvania ex rel. Sullivan v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51, 55, 58 S.Ct. 59, 61, 82 L.Ed. 43 (1937). See also Williams v. Oklahoma, 358 U.S. 576, 585, 79 S.Ct. 421, 426, 3 L.Ed.2d 516 (1959); Williams v. New York, 337 U.S., at 247, 69 S.Ct., at 1083. [n. 37] Otherwise, "the system cannot function in a consistent and a rational manner." American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Sentencing Alternatives and Procedures s 4.1(a), Commentary, p. 201 (App. Draft 1968). See also President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society 144 (1967); ALI, Model Penal Code s 7.07, Comment 1, pp. 52-53 (Tent. Draft No. 2, 1954). [n. 38]

37. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require as a matter of course that a presentence report containing information about a defendant's  background be prepared for use by the sentencing judge. Rule 32(c). The importance of obtaining accurate sentencing information is underscored by the Rule's direction to the sentencing court to "afford the defendant or his counsel an opportunity to comment (on the report) and, at the discretion of the court, to introduce testimony or other information relating to any alleged factual inaccuracy contained in the presentence report." Rule 32(c)(3)(A).

38. Indeed, we hold elsewhere today that in capital cases it is constitutionally required that the sentencing authority have information sufficient to enable it to consider the character and individual circumstances of a defendant prior to imposition of a death sentence. See Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S., at 303-305, 96 S.Ct., at 2991-2992.

 [p. 190] The cited studies assumed that the trial judge would be the sentencing authority. If an experienced trial judge, who daily faces the difficult task of imposing sentences, has a vital need for accurate information about a defendant and the crime he committed in order to be able to impose a rational sentence in the typical criminal case, then accurate sentencing information is an indispensable prerequisite to a reasoned determination of whether a defendant shall live or die by a jury of people who may never before have made a sentencing decision.

 Jury sentencing has been considered desirable in capital cases in order "to maintain a link between contemporary community values and the penal system a link without which the determination of punishment could hardly reflect 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.' " [n. 39] But it creates special problems. Much of the information that is relevant to the sentencing decision may have no relevance to the question of guilt, or may even be extremely prejudicial to a fair determination of that question.  This problem, however, is scarcely insurmountable. Those who have studied the question suggest that a bifurcated procedure one in which the [p. 191] question of sentence is not considered until the determination of guilt has been made is the best answer. The drafters of the Model Penal Codconcluded:

39. Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S., at 519 n. 15, 88 S.Ct., at 1775 n. 15.
 "(If a unitary proceeding is used) the determination of the punishment must be based on less than all the evidence that has a bearing on that issue, such for example as a previous criminal record of the accused, or evidence must be admitted on the ground that it is relevant to sentence, though it would be excluded as irrelevant or prejudicial with respect to guilt or innocence alone. Trial lawyers understandably have little confidence in a solution that admits the evidence and trusts to an instruction to the jury that it should be considered only in determining the penalty and disregarded in assessing guilt.
". . . The obvious solution . . . is to bifurcate the proceeding, abiding strictly by the rules of evidence until and unless there is a conviction, but once guilt has been determined opening the record to the further information that is relevant to sentence. This is the analogue of the procedure in the ordinary case when capital punishment is not in issue; the court conducts a separate inquiry before imposing sentence." ALI, Model Penal Code s 201.6, Comment 5, pp. 74-75 (Tent. Draft No. 9, 1959).
 See also Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 567-569, 87 S.Ct. 648, 655-657, 17 L.Ed.2d 606 (1967); Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949- 1953, Cmd. 8932, P P 555, 574; Knowlton, Problems of Jury Discretion in Capital Cases, 101 U.Pa.L.Rev. 1099, 1135-1136 (1953). When a human life is at stake and when the jury must have information prejudicial to the question of guilt but relevant to the question of penalty in order to impose a rational sentence, a bifurcated [p. 192] system is more likely to ensure elimination of the constitutional deficiencies identified in Furman. [n. 41]
41. In United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570, 88 S.Ct. 1209, 20 L.Ed.2d 138 (1968), the Court considered a statute that provided that if a defendant pleaded guilty, the maximum penalty would be life imprisonment, but if a defendant chose to go to trial, the maximum penalty upon conviction was death. In holding that the statute was constitutionally invalid, the Court noted:
"The inevitable effect of any such provision is, of course, to discourage assertion of the Fifth Amendment right not to plead guilty and to deter exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to demand a jury trial. If the provision had no other purpose or effect than to chill the assertion of constitutional rights by penalizing those who choose to exercise them, then it would be patently unconstitutional." Id., at 581, 88 S.Ct., at 1216.
 But the provision of relevant information under fair procedural rules is not alone sufficient to guarantee that the information will be properly used in the imposition of punishment, especially if sentencing is performed by a jury. Since the members of a jury will have had little, if any, previous experience in sentencing, they are unlikely to be skilled in dealing with the information they are given. See American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Relating to Sentencing Alternatives and Procedures, s 1.1(b), Commentary, pp. 46-47 (Approved Draft 1968); President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice: The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, Task Force Report: The Courts 26 (1967). To the extent that this problem is inherent in jury sentencing, it may not be totally correctible. It seems clear, however, that the problem will be alleviated if the jury is given guidance regarding the factors about the crime and the defendant that the State, representing organized society, deems particularly relevant to the sentencing decision.

 The idea that a jury should be given guidance in its [p. 193] decisionmaking is also hardly a novel proposition. Juries are invariably given careful instructions on the law and how to apply it before they are authorized to decide the merits of a lawsuit. It would be virtually unthinkable to follow any other course in a legal system that has traditionally operated by following prior precedents and fixed rules of law.  See Gasoline Products Co. v. Champlin Refining Co., 283 U.S. 494, 498, 51 S.Ct. 513, 514, 75 L.Ed. 1188 (1931); Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 51. When erroneous instructions are given, retrial is often required. It is quite simply a hallmark of our legal system that juries be carefully and adequately guided in their deliberations.

 While some have suggested that standards to guide a capital jury's sentencing deliberations are impossible to formulate, [n. 43] the fact is that such standards have been developed. When the drafters of the Model Penal Code faced this problem, they concluded "that it is within the realm of possibility to point to the main circumstances of aggravation and of mitigation that should be weighed And weighed against each other when they are presented in a concrete case." ALI, Model Penal Code s 201.6, Comment 3, p. 71 (Tent. Draft No. 9, 1959) (emphasis in original). [n. 44] While such standards are by [p. 194] necessity somewhat general, they do provide guidance to the sentencing authority and thereby reduce the likelihood that it will impose a sentence that fairly can be [p. 195] called capricious or arbitrary.  Where the sentencing authority is required to specify the factors it relied upon in reaching its decision, the further safeguard of meaningful appellate review is available to ensure that death sentences are not imposed capriciously or in a freakish manner.

43. See McGautha v. California, 402 U.S., at 204-207, 91 S.Ct., at 1465-1467; Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949-1953, Cmd. 8932, P 595.

44. The Model Penal Code proposes the following standards:
"(3) Aggravating Circumstances.
"(a) The murder was committed by a convict under sentence of imprisonment.
"(b) The defendant was previously convicted of another murder or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
"(c) At the time the murder was committed the defendant also committed another murder.
"(d) The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.
"(e) The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged or was an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit robbery, rape or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping.  "(f) The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from lawful custody.
"(g) The murder was committed for pecuniary gain.
"(h) The murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity.
"(4) Mitigating Circumstances.
"(a) The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity.
"(b) The murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance.
"(c) The victim was a participant in the defendant's homicidal conduct or consented to the homicidal act.
"(d) The murder was committed under circumstances which the defendant believed to provide a moral justification or extenuation for his conduct.
"(e) The defendant was an accomplice in a murder committed by another person and his participation in the homicidal act was relatively minor.
"(f) The defendant acted under duress or under the domination of another person.
"(g) At the time of the murder, the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired as a result of mental disease or defect or intoxication.  "(h) The youth of the defendant at the time of the crime." ALI, Model Penal Code s 210.6 (Proposed Official Draft 1962).

 In summary, the concerns expressed in Furman that the penalty of death not be imposed in an arbitrary or capricious manner can be met by a carefully drafted statute that ensures that the sentencing authority is given adequate information and guidance. As a general proposition these concerns are best met by a system that provides for a bifurcated proceeding at which the sentencing authority is apprised of the information relevant to the imposition of sentence and provided with standards to guide its use of the information.

 We do not intend to suggest that only the above-described procedures would be permissible under Furman or that any sentencing system constructed along these general lines would inevitably satisfy the concerns of Furman, [n. 46] for each distinct system must be examined on an individual basis. Rather, we have embarked upon this general exposition to make clear that it is possible to construct capital-sentencing systems capable of meeting Furman's constitutional concerns. [n. 47]

46. A system could have standards so vague that they would fail adequately to channel the sentencing decision patterns of juries with the result that a pattern of arbitrary and capricious sentencing like that found unconstitutional in Furman could occur.

47. In McGautha v. California, supra, this Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not require that a jury be provided with standards to guide its decision whether to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment or death or that the capital-sentencing proceeding be separated from the guilt-determination process. McGautha was not an Eighth Amendment decision, and to the extent it purported to deal with Eighth Amendment concerns, it must be read in light of the opinions in Furman v. Georgia. There the Court ruled that death sentences imposed under statutes that left juries with untrammeled discretion to impose or withhold the death penalty violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. While Furman did not overrule McGautha, it is clearly in substantial tension with a broad reading of McGautha's holding. In view of Furman,  McGautha can be viewed rationally as a precedent only for the proposition that standardless jury sentencing procedures were not employed in the cases there before the Court so as to violate the Due Process Clause. We note that McGautha's assumption that it is not possible to devise standards to guide and regularize jury sentencing in capital cases has been undermined by subsequent experience. In view of that experience and the considerations set forth in the text, we adhere to Furman's determination that where the ultimate punishment of death is at issue a system of standardless jury discretion violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

    [p. 196]


 We now turn to consideration of the constitutionality of Georgia's capital- sentencing procedures. In the wake of Furman, Georgia amended its capital punishment statute, but chose not to narrow the scope of its murder provisions. See Part II, Supra. Thus, now as before Furman, in Georgia "(a) person commits murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being." Ga.Code Ann., s 26- 1101(a) (1972). All persons convicted of murder "shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life." s 26-1101(c) (1972).

 Georgia did act, however, to narrow the class of murderers subject to capital punishment by specifying 10 [p. 197] statutory aggravating circumstances, one of which must be found by the jury to exist beyond a reasonable doubt before a death sentence can ever be imposed. [n. 48] In addition, the jury is authorized to consider any other appropriate aggravating or mitigating circumstances. s 27-2534.1(b) (Supp.1975). The jury is not required to find any mitigating circumstance in order to make a recommendation of mercy that is binding on the trial court, see s 27-2302 (Supp.1975), but it must find a Statutory aggravating circumstance before recommending a sentence of death.

48. [The statute provides in part:
"(a) The death penalty may be imposed for the offenses of aircraft hijacking or treason, in any case.
"(b) In all cases of other offenses for which the death penalty may be authorized, the judge shall consider, or he shall include in his instructions to the jury for it to consider, any mitigating circumstances or aggravating circumstances otherwise authorized by law and any of the following statutory aggravating circumstances which may be supported by the evidence:
"(1) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was committed by a person with a prior record of conviction for a capital felony, or the offense of murder was committed by a person who has a substantial history of serious assaultive criminal convictions.
"(2) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony, or aggravated battery, or the offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of burglary or arson in the first degree.  "(3) The offender by his act of murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon or device which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.
"(4) The offender committed the offense of murder for himself or another, for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value.
"(5) The murder of a judicial officer, former judicial officer, district attorney or solicitor or former district attorney or solicitor during or because of the exercise of his official duty.
"(6) The offender caused or directed another to commit murder or committed murder as an agent or employee of another person.
"(7) The offense of murder, rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim.
"(8) The offense of murder was committed against any peace officer, corrections employee or fireman while engaged in the performance of his official duties.
"(9) The offense of murder was committed by a person in, or who has escaped from, the lawful custody of a peace officer or place of lawful confinement.
"(10) The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or custody in a place of lawful confinement, of himself or another.
"(c) The statutory instructions as determined by the trial judge to be warranted by the evidence shall be given in charge and in writing to the jury for its deliberation. The jury, if its verdict be a recommendation of death, shall designate in writing, signed by the foreman of the jury, the aggravating circumstance or circumstances which it found beyond a reasonable doubt. In non-jury cases the judge shall make such designation. Except in cases of treason or aircraft hijacking, unless at least one of the statutory aggravating circumstances enumerated in section 27- 2534.1(b) is so found, the death penalty shall not be imposed." s 27- 2534.1 (Supp.1975).
The Supreme Court of Georgia, in Arnold v. State, 236 Ga. 534, 540, 224 S.E.2d 386, 391 (1976), recently held unconstitutional the portion of the first circumstance encompassing persons who have a "substantial history of serious assaultive criminal convictions" because it did not set "sufficiently 'clear and objective standards.'"]
 These procedures require the jury to consider the circumstances of the crime and the criminal before it recommends sentence. No longer can a Georgia jury do as Furman's jury did: reach a finding of the defendant's guilt and then, without guidance or direction, decide whether he should live or die. Instead, the jury's attention is directed to the specific circumstances of the crime: Was it committed in the course of another capital felony? Was it committed for money? Was it committed upon a peace officer or judicial officer? Was it committed in a particularly heinous way or in a manner that endangered the lives of many persons? In addition, the jury's attention is focused on the characteristics of the person who committed the crime: Does he have a record of prior convictions for capital offenses? Are there any special facts about this defendant that mitigate against imposing capital punishment (E. g., his youth, the extent of his cooperation with the police, his emotional state at the time of the crime).  As a result, while [p. 198] some jury discretion still exists, "the discretion to be exercised is controlled by clear and objective standards so as to produce non-discriminatory application." Coley v. State, 231 Ga. 829, 834, 204 S.E.2d 612, 615 (1974).

 As an important additional safeguard against arbitrariness and caprice, the Georgia statutory scheme provides for automatic appeal of all death sentences to the State's Supreme Court. That court is required by statute to review each sentence of death and determine whether it was imposed under the influence of passion or prejudice, whether the evidence supports the jury's finding of a statutory aggravating circumstance, and whether the sentence is disproportionate compared to those sentences imposed in similar cases. s 27- 2537(c) (Supp.1975).

 In short, Georgia's new sentencing procedures require as a prerequisite to the imposition of the death penalty, specific jury findings as to the circumstances of the crime or the character of the defendant. Moreover, to guard further against a situation comparable to that presented in Furman, the Supreme Court of Georgia compares each death sentence with the sentences imposed on similarly situated defendants to ensure that the sentence of death in a particular case is not disproportionate. On their face these procedures seem to satisfy the concerns of Furman. No longer should there be "no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which (the death penalty) is imposed from the many cases in which it is not." 408 U.S., at 313, 92 S.Ct., at 2764 (White, J., concurring).

 The petitioner contends, however, that the changes in the Georgia sentencing procedures are only cosmetic, that the arbitrariness and capriciousness condemned by Furman continue to exist in Georgia both in traditional practices that still remain and in the new sentencing procedures adopted in response to Furman.

[p. 199]


 First, the petitioner focuses on the opportunities for discretionary action that are inherent in the processing of any murder case under Georgia law. He notes that the state prosecutor has unfettered authority to select those persons whom he wishes to prosecute for a capital offense and to plea bargain with them. Further, at the trial the jury may choose to convict a defendant of a lesser included offense rather than find him guilty of a crime punishable by death, even if the evidence would support a capital verdict. And finally, a defendant who is convicted and sentenced to die may have his sentence commuted by the Governor of the State and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

 The existence of these discretionary stages is not determinative of the issues before us. At each of these stages an actor in the criminal justice system makes a decision which may remove a defendant from consideration as a candidate for the death penalty. Furman, in contrast, dealt with the decision to impose the death sentence on a specific individual who had been convicted of a capital offense. Nothing in any of our cases suggests that the decision to afford an individual defendant mercy violates the Constitution. Furman held only that, in order to minimize the risk that the death penalty would be imposed on a capriciously selected group of offenders, the decision to impose it had to be guided by standards so that the sentencing authority would focus on the particularized circumstances of the crime and the defendant.

    [p. 200]


 The petitioner further contends that the capital-sentencing procedures adopted by Georgia in response to Furman do not eliminate the dangers of arbitrariness and caprice in jury sentencing that were held in Furman to be violative of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. He claims that the statute is so broad and vague as to leave juries free to act as arbitrarily and capriciously as they wish in deciding whether to impose the death penalty. While there is no claim that the jury in this case relied upon a vague or overbroad provision to establish the existence of a statutory aggravating circumstance, the petitioner looks to the sentencing system as a whole (as the Court did in Furman and we do today) and argues that it fails to reduce sufficiently the risk of arbitrary infliction of death sentences. Specifically, Gregg urges that the statutory aggravating circumstances are too broad and too vague, that the sentencing procedure allows for arbitrary grants of mercy, and that the scope of the evidence and argument that can be considered at the presentence hearing is too wide.

 [p. 201] The petitioner attacks the seventh statutory aggravating circumstance, which authorizes imposition of the death penalty if the murder was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim," contending that it is so broad that capital punishment could be imposed in any murder case.  It is, of course, arguable that any murder involves depravity of mind or an aggravated battery. But this language need not be construed in this way, and there is no reason to assume that the Supreme Court of Georgia will adopt such an open-ended construction. [n. 52] In only one case has it upheld a jury's decision to sentence a defendant to death when the only statutory aggravating circumstance found was that of the seventh, see McCorquodale v. State, 233 Ga. 369, 211 S.E.2d 577 (1974), and that homicide was a horrifying torture-murder.

52. In the course of interpreting Florida's new capital-sentencing statute, the Supreme Court of Florida has ruled that the phrase "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel" means a "conscienceless or pitiless crime which is unnecessarily torturous to the victim." State v. Dixon, 283 So.2d 1, 9 (1973). See Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, at 255-256, 96 S.Ct. 2960, at 2967-2968, 49 L.Ed.2d 913.
 [p. 202] The petitioner also argues that two of the statutory aggravating circumstances are vague and therefore susceptible of widely differing interpretations, thus creating a substantial risk that the death penalty will be arbitrarily inflicted by Georgia juries.  In light of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Georgia we must disagree. First, the petitioner attacks that part of s 27-2534.1(b)(1) that authorizes a jury to consider whether a defendant has a "substantial history of serious assaultive criminal convictions." The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, has demonstrated a concern that the new sentencing procedures provide guidance to juries. It held this provision to be impermissibly vague in Arnold v. State, 236 Ga. 534, 540, 224 S.E.2d 386, 391 (1976), because it did not provide the jury with "sufficiently 'clear and objective standards.' " Second, the petitioner points to s 27-2534.1(b)(3) which speaks of creating a "great risk of death to more than one person." While such a phrase might be susceptible of an overly broad interpretation, the Supreme Court of Georgia has not so construed it. The only case in which the court upheld a conviction in reliance on this aggravating circumstance involved a man who stood up in a church and fired a gun indiscriminately into the audience. See [p. 203] Chenault v. State, 234 Ga. 216, 215 S.E.2d 223 (1975). On the other hand, the court expressly reversed a finding of great risk when the victim was simply kidnaped in a parking lot. See Jarrell v. State, 234 Ga. 410, 424, 216 S.E.2d 258, 269 (1975).

 * * *

[p. 204]


 Finally, the Georgia statute has an additional provision designed to assure that the death penalty will not be imposed on a capriciously selected group of convicted defendants. The new sentencing procedures require that the State Supreme Court review every death sentence to determine whether it was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, whether the evidence supports the findings of a statutory aggravating circumstance, and "(w)hether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant." s 27-2537(c)(3) (Supp.1975).  In performing [p. 205] its sentence-review function, the Georgia court has held that "if the death penalty is only rarely imposed for an act or it is substantially out of line with sentences imposed for other acts it will be set aside as excessive." Coley v. State, 231 Ga., at 834, 204 S.E.2d, at 616. The court on another occasion stated that "we view it to be our duty under the similarity standard to assure that no death sentence is affirmed unless in similar cases throughout the state the death penalty has been imposed generally . . . ." Moore v. State, 233 Ga. 861, 864, 213 S.E.2d 829, 832 (1975). See also Jarrell v. State, supra, 234 Ga., at 425, 216 S.E.2d, at 270 (standard is whether "juries generally throughout the state have imposed the death penalty"); Smith v. State, 236 Ga. 12, 24, 222 S.E.2d 308, 318 (1976) (found "a clear pattern" of jury behavior).

 It is apparent that the Supreme Court of Georgia has taken its review responsibilities seriously. In Coley, it held that "(t)he prior cases indicate that the past practice among juries faced with similar factual situations and like aggravating circumstances has been to impose only the sentence of life imprisonment for the offense of rape, rather than death." 231 Ga., at 835, 204 S.E.2d at, 617. It thereupon reduced Coley's sentence from death to life imprisonment. Similarly, although armed robbery is a capital offense under Georgia law, s 26-1902 (1972), the Georgia court concluded that the death sentences imposed in this case for that crime were "unusual in that they are rarely imposed for (armed robbery). Thus, under the test provided by statute, . . . they must be considered to be excessive or disproportionate to the penalties imposed in similar cases." 233 [p. 206] Ga., at 127, 210 S.E.2d, at 667. The court therefore vacated Gregg's death sentences for armed robbery and hasollowed a similar course in every other armed robbery death penalty case to come before it. See Floyd v. State, 233 Ga. 280, 285, 210 S.E.2d 810, 814 (1974); Jarrell v. State, 234 Ga., at 424-425, 216 S.E.2d, at 270. See Dorsey v. State, 236 Ga. 591, 225 S.E.2d 418 (1976).

 The provision for appellate review in the Georgia capital-sentencing system serves as a check against the random or arbitrary imposition of the death penalty. In particular, the proportionality review substantially eliminates the possibility that a person will be sentenced to die by the action of an aberrant jury. If a time comes when juries generally do not impose the death sentence in a certain kind of murder case, the appellate review procedures assure that no defendant convicted under such circumstances will suffer a sentence of death.


 The basic concern of Furman centered on those defendants who were being condemned to death capriciously and arbitrarily. Under the procedures before the Court in that case, sentencing authorities were not directed to give attention to the nature or circumstances of the crime committed or to the character or record of the defendant.  Left unguided, juries imposed the death sentence in a way that could only be called freakish. The new Georgia sentencing procedures, by contrast, focus the jury's attention on the particularized nature of the crime and the particularized characteristics of the individual defendant. While the jury is permitted to consider any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, it must find and identify at least one statutory aggravating factor before it may impose a penalty of death. In this way the jury's discretion is channeled. No longer [p. 207] can a jury wantonly and freakishly impose the death sentence; it is always circumscribed by the legislative guidelines. In addition, the review function of the Supreme Court of Georgia affords additional assurance that the concerns that prompted our decision in Furman are not present to any significant degree in the Georgia procedure applied here.

 For the reasons expressed in this opinion, we hold that the statutory system under which Gregg was sentenced to death does not violate the Constitution. Accordingly, the judgment of the Georgia Supreme Court is affirmed.

 It is so ordered.

Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) (pts I-III)