Excessive Sentencing: NACDL’s Proportionality Litigation Project

NACDL is pleased to offer, as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of resources that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences.

This resource has been made possible by generous support from the Foundation for Criminal Justice and the Ford Foundation. It was inspired in part by the Supreme Court’s recent landmark constitutional decisions in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (May 17, 2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (June 25, 2012), which pronounced new Eighth Amendment limits on when and how states can impose life without parole (“LWOP”) prison terms on juvenile offenders. The doctrinal lines drawn (and not drawn) in these decisions raise an array of policy questions and practical challenges: the full meaning and impact of the Supreme Court’s new Eighth Amendment jurisprudence for juvenile offenders is sure to be litigated with varied results in various jurisdictions in the months and years ahead. The sound development of the Eighth Amendment principles set forth in Graham and Miller, as well as the potential extension of those principles by state lawmakers and courts, can and should be aided considerably by a clearinghouse of information concerning state-level jurisprudence regarding the Eighth Amendment and analogous state constitutional and statutory provisions. This resource aspires to serve as part of an on-going NACDL project seeking to provide such a clearinghouse and related resources to assist litigants, judges and policy-makers.

The state profiles and related materials, which were prepared by recent law school graduates under the supervision of Professor Douglas A. Berman, provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. Unsurprisingly in the wake of Graham and Miller, there has been a significant increase in state-level litigation concerning lengthy prison terms, especially for juvenile offenders. The expectation is to have Professor Berman, in conjunction with the pro bono efforts other lawyers and aided especially by NACDL members and others who utilize this resource, revise and update these profiles regularly.

Excessive Sentencing State Comparison Chart

NACDL’s 50-state (plus DC) proportionality chart, which offers for each jurisdiction consolidated detail concerning (i) individual constitutional provisions, (ii) whether each is broader than the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, (iii) important holdings, (iv) important case law citations to Graham, (v) whether parole is discretionary, and (vi) whether LWOP and JLWOP sentences are currently available.

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