Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003)

Case Name: Ewing v. California
Citation: 538 U.S. 11 (2003)

Facts: The goal of the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law was to protect public safety by providing lengthy prison terms for habitual offers. Ewing had a record (mostly theft and battery – at least two serious or violent crimes) and was being sentenced for stealing about $1,200 worth of golf clubs. The judge had some discretion whether or not to sentence under Three Strikes but refused and sentenced Ewing to 25 years to life.

Issue: Whether the 8th Amendment prohibits 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.”

Defendant’s argument: Ewing’s 25 years to life sentence is disproportionate and is cruel and unusual punishment for theft charges. It does not match up with “the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty.”

State’s argument: This law targets the class of offenders who pose the greatest threat to public safety: career criminals. Also, statistics showed that the new law seemed to deter crime because the recidivism rate went down.

Holding: The sentence was affirmed.

Reasoning: Deference to the legislature – it is a legislative judgment that offenders who continue to commit violent or serious crimes be incapacitated. Spoke about the cruel and unusual clause contains a “Narrow proportionality principle” that “applies to noncapital sentences.”

Scalia’s concurrence in judgment: Proportionality should only be tied to capital offenses. The plurality is evaluating policy (making it more difficult than it has to be).

Thomas’ concurrence in the judgment: 8th Amendment contains no proportionality principle

Dissent: Proportionality is required by the 8th Amendment.

Leave a Reply