Proportionality in Non-Capital Sentencing: The Supreme Court's Tortured Approach to Cruel and Unusual Punishment
67 Pages Posted: 30 May 2009
Date Written: 1995
This Article examines the Supreme Court's treatment of the Eighth Amendment with respect to claims of excessive prison sentences. Specifically, it addresses the issue of whether and to what degree the Eighth Amendment requires that a punishment not be disproportionate to the crime. In analyzing all of the modern holdings of the Court in this area, this Article finds significant fault with each. The result of this series of flawed opinions from the Supreme Court is that the state of the law with respect to proportionality in sentencing is confused, and what law can be discerned rests on weak foundations.
This Article begins with an analysis of the modern proportionality decisions of the Supreme Court in non-capital cases. It discusses the various approaches taken by members of the Court and tracks these approaches through each of the cases. The second portion discusses the philosophical justifications of punishment and the impact these justifications have on attempts to frame a proportionality standard. This Article concludes by recommending a constitutional standard consistent with accepted philosophical justifications of punishment and embodying principles determined by the Supreme Court to be of critical importance.
Keywords: Supreme Court, cruel and unusual punishment, criminal law, Eighth Amendment, proportionality decisions
JEL Classification: K14, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation