Florida Court Discusses What Constitutes a Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The United States Constitution affords people many rights. In particular, it grants numerous protections to criminal defendants, including the Eighth Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishments. Thus, if a court sentences a person convicted of a crime to an extraordinarily harsh penalty, it may violate the person’s Constitutional rights. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in a case in which the defendant argued the sentence imposed for his conviction for receiving child pornography was unjust. If you are charged with a  sex crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a Tampa sex crime defense lawyer about your rights.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Sentence

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with one count of receiving child pornography. He entered a guilty plea, after which he was sentenced to 151 months in prison. He then appealed, arguing that his sentence was excessive and violated his Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, he argued it was disproportionate to the crime, excessive, an unduly harsh for a first-time offender who had no contact with the children involved in the crime.

What Constitutes a Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of punishments that are unusual and cruel contains a proportionality provision that only applies to non-capital sentences. The court noted that the Eighth Amendment does not require stringent proportionality between an offense and a sentence. Instead, it merely forbids extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the offense in question.

In assessing an Eighth Amendment challenge to a non-capital sentence, a court must first consider whether the sentence is clearly disproportionate. If it is, the court will then look at sentences imposed on other people convicted of the same crime. The court explained that successful Eighth Amendment challenges to non-capital sentences are rare and stated it had never held that such a sentence issued in an adult case violated the Eighth Amendment.

Additionally, the court explained, sentences that are within the limits imposed by law are not excessive nor unusual, or cruel under the Eighth Amendment. In the subject case, the court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments. The court noted that the statutory range for the defendant’s offense was five to twenty years in prison, and the defendant’s sentence of 151 months was at the bottom of the range provided by the sentencing guidelines. Further, in contrast to the defendant’s assertions, the court noted that the offense of receiving child pornography is not a victimless crime. Thus, the court upheld his sentence.

Meet with an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Receiving or distributing child pornography is a serious crime that can result in a lengthy prison sentence. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Tampa sex crime defense lawyer with the skills and knowledge needed to help you seek a favorable outcome, and if you hire him, he will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can reach Mr. Hanlon through the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.