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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Law - "Into the Breach: The Case for Robust Noncapital Proportionality Review Under State Constitutions"

A new paper on SSRN by Samuel Weiss (h/t to Sentencing Law Blog). A quote from the abstract:

This Note suggests that states should aggressively police the proportionality of noncapital sentences under their state constitutions.

Part I discusses extant noncapital proportionality, both the United States Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment doctrine and states’ responses to either heighten standards of review or to march in lockstep with the Court.

Part II discusses the primary basis for state courts’ failure to regulate proportionality — that regulating sentences would be intervening into legislative judgment of retributive fit — and its deep flaws.

State courts ignore that criminal codes bear little relation to actual crime and punishment — criminal liability is so broad and sentences so punitive that legislatures have essentially delegated decisions on criminality and sentence length to prosecutors.

Prosecutors, in turn, routinely deliver disproportionate sentences because prosecutors are local political actors who push the actual costs of incarceration onto state governments; because the public pushes for ever-harsher sentences; and because prosecutors deliver trial penalties to defendants who refuse to plead guilty.

Much of the Supreme Court’s cautiousness comes from its broader fear about intervention in state criminal justice systems; this fear is legitimate but should carry no weight with state courts, which are part of state criminal justice systems.

Part III addresses the remaining arguments against aggressive state proportionality review — that states should interpret their parallel provisions in the same manner as the federal provision and that judges are institutionally incompetent to make decisions about comparative blameworthiness.

The Note concludes that states should use their constitutions to pursue aggressive noncapital proportionality review.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 2, 2014 08:38 AM
Posted to General Law Related