How to Determine Whether a Punishment Is Disproportionate to the Offense In California ?
In re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410 applied a three-pronged approach to determine whether a particular punishment is disproportionate to the offense for which it is imposed. ( In re Lynch, supra, 8 Cal.3d at pp. 429-438.)
Under the first prong, the California Supreme Court examined the "nature of the offense and/or the offender, with particular regard to the degree of danger both present to society." ( Id. at p. 425.)
Second, the court compared the challenged punishment with that prescribed for more serious crimes in the same jurisdiction. ( Id. at p. 426.)
Finally, the challenged punishment was compared with punishments for the same offense in other jurisdictions. ( Id. at p. 427.)
After its analysis, the court there held an indeterminate sentence of one year to life for recidivists who commit indecent exposure under section 314 was void as cruel or unusual punishment. (In re Lynch, supra, 8 Cal.3d at p. 439.)
In In re Lynch (1972) the state Supreme Court held that a punishment may be cruel and unusual if "it is so disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity." Lynch, supra, 8 Cal.3d at page 424.
The Lynch court established a three-pronged analysis to aid courts in determining whether a punishment is disproportionate to the offense for which it was proposed.
First, courts may examine the "nature of the offense and/or the offender, with particular regard to the degree of danger both present to society." Lynch, supra, 8 Cal.3d at page 425
Second, courts may compare the punishment in issue with punishments prescribed for more serious crimes in the same jurisdiction.
Third, courts may compare the punishment in issue with punishments prescribed for the same offense in different jurisdictions. Lynch, supra, 8 Cal.3d at pages 425-427.
In In re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410, 105 Cal. Rptr. 217, 503 P.2d 921, the Supreme Court stated, "Legislative authority remains ultimately circumscribed by the constitutional provision forbidding the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment, adopted by the people of this state as an integral part of our Declaration of Rights. It is the difficult but imperative task of the judicial branch, as coequal guardian of the Constitution, to condemn any violation of that prohibition.
As the Court concluded in People v. Anderson (1972) 6 Cal.3d 628, 640, 100 Cal. Rptr. 152, 493 P.2d 880, 'The Legislature is thus accorded the broadest discretion possible in enacting penal statutes and in specifying punishment for crime, but the final judgment as to whether the punishment it decrees exceeds constitutional limits is a judicial function.'" (In re Lynch, supra, 8 C3d at p. 414.)