Florida Court Explains Protections Against Cruel and Unusual Punishments

State and federal governments have the authority to issue punishments for criminal offenses. They cannot do so in a manner that is deemed unusual or cruel, however. As such, if a criminal defendant believes a sentence violates their Eighth Amendment rights against unusual and cruel punishment, they may be able to successfully argue that it should be vacated. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes an unjust sentence in an opinion issued in a sex crime case. If you were charged with a sex offense, it is smart to meet with a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense lawyer to assess your rights.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with three counts of possessing and producing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to two of the charges in exchange for dismissal of the third. The defendant’s plea agreement advised he faced a sentence of between 15 and 30 years imprisonment in total, followed by a term of supervised release from five years to life.

Allegedly, the defendant requested a sentence of 240 months imprisonment based on his history of PTSD, his childhood sexual abuse, and his service as a police officer and in the military. The court sentenced him to a total of 480 months imprisonment,  however, followed by supervised release for the remainder of his life. He appealed, arguing that his sentence constituted a unusual and cruel punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.

Protections Against Unusual and cruel Punishments

On appeal, the court noted that because the defendant failed to preserve his Eighth Amendment argument at the trial level, it would review the trial court’s ruling for plain error. In other words, the defendant would only be granted relief if he proved that the trial court committed an error that was obvious and that impacted his substantial rights.

Outside of the context of cases involving capital punishment, the Eighth Amendment encompasses, at most, a narrow proportionality principle that only bars extreme sentences that are vastly disproportionate to the crime. The appellate court explained that this means outside of the context of capital punishment, successful challenges to the proportionality of certain sentences are exceptionally rare, as the courts grant great deference to Congress, as it has broad authority to determine the types and limits of penalties for criminal offenses.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the defendant’s sentence did not plainly violate the Eighth Amendment, noting that generally, a sentence that falls within the statutory range is not cruel, excessive, or unusual. Further, there could be no plain error where there is no precedent resolving the issue at hand, and none was cited in this case. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the defendant’s sentence.

Discuss Your Charges with a Skillful Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Convictions for sex crimes can result in lengthy sentences, and it is critical for anyone charged with an offense that is sexual in nature to retain an experienced attorney. If you are accused of a sex crime, the skillful Tampa lawyers of Hanlon Law can advise you of your rights and help you fight to protect your liberties. You can reach Hanlon Law via the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.