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Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers
The Eighth Amendment “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” © Street Law, Inc. 2012
The Eighth Amendment and Cruel and Unusual PunishmentTwo general classes of Supreme Court cases: The punishment is excessive for this defendant (given his particular crime) The punishment is excessive for all similarly situated defendants (categorical exclusions) © Street Law, Inc. 2012
The punishment is excessive for this defendant:Consider all circumstances of the case to determine whether the sentence is unconstitutionally excessive for the crime committed For example: Life without parole for a defendant’s seventh non-violent felony, passing a worthless check is not allowed (Solem v. Helm (1983)) BUT, it is usually very difficult to show disproportionality and some justices won’t even consider it as a factor Life without parole for the possession of 650 grams of cocaine with no prior felony convictions is allowed (Harmelin v. Michigan (1991)) © Street Law, Inc. 2012
The punishment is excessive for all similarly situated defendants (categorical exclusion):When crafting a categorical exclusion, the Court engages in a two-part test: Is there a national consensus against this kind of punishment? “The [Eighth] Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Earl Warren, Trop v. Dulles (1958) Does the punishment violate the Constitution given the Court’s precedents and interpretation of the Eighth Amendment’s text, history, meaning, and purpose? © Street Law, Inc. 2012
Categorical Exclusions of the Eighth AmendmentExtreme punishment has been prohibited based on… The crime committed: No executions for non-homicide crime (Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)) A characteristic of the offender: No executions if under age 18 at time of offense (Roper v. Simmons (2005)) No executions if low intellectual functioning (Atkins v. Virginia (2002)) A combination of both: No life without parole for non-homicide crime if under 18 at time of offense (Graham v. Florida (2010)) © Street Law, Inc. 2012
Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers
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