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Solem v. Helm

The Origins Of Proportional Punishment

Dating back to the Magna Carta (1215), early English law expressed deep concern for proportionate punishment. Later the English Bill of Rights included the ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which the United States adopted for its Eighth Amendment. The prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment includes sentences disproportionate to the offense as well as barbaric punishment.

For over a century, the Supreme Court recognized the ban on extreme forms of punishment that significantly outweighed the crime. For example, in Weems v. United States, (1910) the Court opposed a disproportionate sentence issued by the lower court. In this case a defendant received a 15-year sentence to hard labor for falsifying a public document.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Solem v. Helm - The Origins Of Proportional Punishment, The Case Of Jerry Helm, Mixed Messages, Lingering Problems