The Legal Investigator Vol.37, Issue 2, Summer 2012 : Page 5

Eighth Amendment Cases before the US Supreme Court Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947) , whether a state can put a condemned man on an electric chair a second time, after sending a non-lethal bolt of electricity through him in its first attempt. By a 5 to 4 vote, the Court in Frances permits the second execu-tion, with the majority concluding that the “cruelty” of the punishment at issue should not be measured by what happened in the past or the mental anguish the prisoner might feel as he awaits his second date with the chair. The four dissenters, however, contended that the sequence of events was relevant, and that no one would doubt that a punishment that consisted of two jolts of electricity weeks apart would be cruel. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977) , whether schools can inflict corporal punishment. Florida stu-dents were subjected to such a severe beating with a wooden paddle as to cause bruising to one student that required medical attention and another was deprived of the use of his arm for a week. By a 5 to 4 vote, however, the Court found that the punishment was not a violation of the Eighth Amendment because, it said, the framers were concerned solely with punish-ments in the criminal justice context and would not have intended the amendment’s provisions to apply to discipline in the public schools. The four dissenters dis-agreed, arguing that nothing in the text of the amend-ment suggests the limitation found by the majority. Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957 (1991) . The Court (5-4) upheld the sentence of life imprisonment for the first-time offense of possession of cocaine (albeit a large amount of cocaine). Two justices argued that the Eighth Amendment did not address the proportional-ity of punishments at all. Four justices would have reaf-firmed an earlier decision that adopted a three-prong test to determining disproportionate punishments and would have reversed Harmelin’s conviction. A key con-curring opinion signed by three justices argued that grossly disproportionate punishments did violate the Eighth Amendment, but offered a test that would only rarely allow courts to reach such conclusions. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992), whether the beating by prison guards of a handcuffed inmate at Louisiana’s Angola prison violated the inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights. Voting 7 to 2, the Court found a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause summer 2012 even though the inmate suffered no permanent injuries or injuries that required hospitalization. The Court rejected the lower court’s argument that only beatings that caused “significant injuries” rose to the level of Eighth Amendment violations. In dissent, Justices Thomas and Scalia argued (controversially) that the Eighth Amendment was intended to reach beatings by guards at all--rather only judicially-imposed sentences. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) . Is it cruel and unusual punishment to execute a prisoner for a crime he committed when he was a minor? In previous decisions, the Court had found it un-constitutional to execute persons who were less than 16 at the time of their crime, but had upheld executions of those 16 and 17 at the time of their crimes. (The Court had also, in 2002, held it to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment to execute mentally retarded persons.) Voting 5 to 4, the Court in Roper cited recent evidence to conclude that the execution of persons who were minors at the time of their crimes now violated “evolv-ing standards of decency” and, hence, the Eighth Amendment. Graham v. Florida 130 S. Ct.. (2011) . By 5-4 vote, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment does not permit sentences of life without possibility of parole for minors who commit non-homicide crimes. Terrance Graham was 16 when he commit-ted armed burglary for which he was sentenced to probation. However, he violated his probation by committing other crimes. Under Florida law, he was sentenced to life without parole. Miller v. Alabama 132 S.Ct. 548 (2011) . The decision came in the robbery and murder cases of Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson. Miller, then 14, was convicted in 2006 of capital murder for beat-ing a man with a baseball bat and leaving him to die in a burning trailer after stealing his baseball card collection and $350. The Supreme Court says it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole for murder. Cases compiled by Prof. Doug Linder, University of Mis-souri-Kansas City School of Law, for an e-series, Explor-ing Constitutional Conflicts . Reprinted with permission. 7

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