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NCJ Number: 82933 Find in a Library
Title: Rummel v Estelle - Sentencing Without a Rational Basis
Journal: Syracuse Law Review  Volume:32  Issue:3  Dated:(Summer 1981)  Pages:803-840
Author(s): C Gallo
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 38
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This note reviews the development of the eighth amendment's prohibition against punishment that is grossly disproportionate to the severity of an offense in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Rummel v. Estelle (1980).
Abstract: The eighth amendment limits the power of the Federal Government and State governments to sanction offenders by the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments. A sentence may violate the eighth amendment either because it is barbaric and inhumane in its method or because it is excessive in relation to the offense committed. Despite this prohibition, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has raised serious questions concerning the Court's willingness and ability to respond meaningfully to eighth amendment challenges to the length of sentence. In Rummel v. Estelle, the Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the imposition of a mandatory life sentence under the Texas recidivist statute did not violate the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court held that life imprisonment for a nonviolent offender whose crimes defrauded others of less than $230 was not disproportionate to the severity of his crimes. It is concluded that the Court cannot make a determination of the propriety of a particular sentence within the framework of a criminal justice system that lacks any rational basis for making sentencing determinations. Defendants challenging life sentences under recidivists statutes should proceed in State courts where the constraints of federalism are not operative and where State constitutions can be interpreted as being more protective than their Federal counterpart. The note includes 216 footnotes.
Index Term(s): Cruel and unusual punishment; Judicial decisions; Recidivists; Sentencing/Sanctions; State laws; US Supreme Court
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