Ewing v. California
Ewing v. California
Supreme Court of the United States.
538 U.S. 11, 123 S.Ct. 1179 (2003)
Issue: Does the Eighth Amendment prohibit the State of California from sentencing a repeat felon to a prison term of 25 years to life under the State’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law?
Rule: The three strikes law states a newly convicted felon with two or more “serious” or “violent” felony convictions in the past can be sentenced under this law to 25 years to life. The Eighth Amendment forbids only extreme sentences that are “grossly disproportionate” to the crime.
The law was designed “to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.”
Facts: In Dec. 1993, Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery and three counts of burglary. Defendant was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison and paroled in 1999. Just 10 months later, Defendant steals 3 golf clubs, worth $399 apiece.
Sentence: He was convicted of one count of felony grand theft of personal property in excess of $400. Ewing was sentenced under the three strikes law to 25 years to life.
The Eighth Amendment contains a “narrow proportionality principle” that “applies to noncapital sentences.” The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence. Rather, it forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime. Nothing prohibited California from enacting the three strikes law. It made a judgment protecting the public safety. Justice looks to traditional rationales of punishment – general deterrence and incarceration.
Defendant framed the issue wrong by trying to downplay his actions along with his criminal history. Theft of $1200 in property is a felony under federal law and in the vast majority of States. Court looked not only at his current offense but at his previous offenses. His sentence is justified because his incapacitation and deterrence is for the public safety of California. He has been convicted of robbery and three different counts of burglary. D has not received a sentence that is grossly disproportionate to the crime.