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WHAT IS CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT? FEDERAL COURTS AND THE PROPORTIONALITY PRINCIPLE AFTER HARMELIN v. MICHIGAN

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Abstract:

In Harmelin v. Michigan, the Rehnquist Court weakened the concept of proportionality under the Eighth Amendment by applying a narrow scope of review and by urging substantial deference to state authority in criminal sentencing. This paper examines how the Court treated the proportionality principle in Harmelin and it reviews how lower federal courts have applied that precedent. The findings indicate that the Rehnquist Court was successful in limiting judicial review of prison sentences. In nearly every case, federal courts have rejected claims of disproportionate punishments under the Harmelin framework, but courts in three recent cases have found punishments to be grossly disproportionate to the crime.

Keywords: Criminal punishment; Eighth Amendment; Federal courts; Proportionality principle; Sentencing

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08884310215662

Affiliations: Political Science Department, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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