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May 17, 2007

State constitutional restrictions on non-capital sentences

This article from my local Columbus Dispatch discusses the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to hear an appeal from a "man sentenced to 134 years in prison for three home-invasion robberies [arguing] that his sentence was cruel and unusual."  Because so few non-capital sentences have been found unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, the defendant in this case should not get too excited about his chances.  However, the Ohio Supreme Court has a history of thoughtfully applying its own state constitutional standards differently than the federal constitutional standards.

I have long thought that state constitutional limits on punishment ought to be applied much differently (and perhaps much more expansively) than the Eighth Amendment.  I know that many state have, in death penalty cases, interpreted state constitutional provisions dynamically, but there are far fewer examples of this in non-capital cases.  Do readers have any favorite examples?

May 17, 2007 at 10:17 AM | Permalink


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Here in la-la land, In re Lynch, 8 Cal.3d 410, 503 P.2d 921 (1972) is the landmark case regarding noncapital sentences and the state Cruel or Unusual Punishments Clause. The decision was a major factor in the decline and fall of indeterminate sentencing and its replacement by the statute at issue in Cunningham.

In the new Ohio case, a guy who robbed people at gunpoint in their own homes on three separate occasions doesn't strike me as the best poster boy for your cause.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 17, 2007 4:38:47 PM

The Indiana Supreme Court has taken a fairly proactive approach in reviewing sentences under the Indiana Constitution, by adopting a rule that sentences may be revised if an appellate court finds the sentence to be "inappropriate" in light of the nature of the offense & the character of the offender. A discussion of sentencing principles under the Indiana Constitution & the adoption of this rule, which implies fairly broad powers to reduce (but not increase) sentences can be found in Serino v. State, 798 N.E.2d 852 (Ind. 2003).

Posted by: anon | May 18, 2007 9:42:47 AM

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