How Much Time for Possession of Large Amounts of Cocaine ?
What is the punishment for possession of large amounts of cocaine ?
In Harmelin v. Michigan (1991) 501 U.S. 957, a majority of the court held that a state mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole for possession of substantial amounts of cocaine did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the federal constitution.
Two justices believed that in non-capital cases, the Eighth Amendment provides for no judicial review whether the length of a legislatively mandated sentence is excessively disproportionate to the crime. ( Id. at pp. 962-994.)
The three concurring justices agreed that the length of a legislatively mandated sentence could be held unconstitutional, but only in cases of "extreme sentences that are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crime." ( Id. at pp. 997-1001.)
In determining whether punishment is cruel or unusual under the California constitution, the basic test is whether the punishment is "so disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity." ( In re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410, 424)
Thus, a "defendant must overcome a 'considerable burden' in convincing us his sentence was disproportionate to his level of culpability." ( People v. Weddle (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 1190, 1197.)
Indeed, successful challenges to proportionality are an "exquisite rarity." ( Id. at p. 1196.)
"Dillon, relying on Lynch, establishes a 'two-prong' analysis.
First, the crime itself must be reviewed, both in the abstract and in view of the totality of the circumstances surrounding its commission, 'including such factors as its motive, the way it was committed, the extent of defendant's involvement, and the consequences of his acts . . .,' to determine whether a particular punishment is grossly disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted.
Secondly, the court must consider 'the nature of the offender' and inquire 'whether the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the defendant's individual culpability as shown by such factors as his age, prior criminality, personal characteristics, and state of mind.'" ( People v. Weddle, supra, 1 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1197-1198.)