Can a Sentence Be Considered Grossly Disproportionate to the Crime Based on It's Length ?

In Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11, 155 L. Ed. 2d 108, 123 S. Ct. 1179 (2003), the defendant shoplifted three golf clubs, each valued at $ 399. Id. at 18. Because of his prior convictions of three burglaries and a robbery, he was sentenced to prison for twenty-five years to life under California's three strikes law. Id. at 20. The Court upheld the sentence, again without a majority rationale. Justice O'Connor, writing for a plurality of three (joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Kennedy), applied Justice Kennedy's analysis from Harmelin and concluded the sentence was not "grossly disproportionate" to the crime. Id. at 30. Concurring separately in the judgment, Justices Scalia and Thomas argued that prison sentences should never be invalidated because of their length. Id. at 31-32 (Scalia, J., concurring in the judgment); id. at 32 (Thomas, J., concurring in the judgment). The four dissenters protested that, even applying Justice Kennedy's framework, Ewing "is a 'rare' case--one in which a court can say with reasonable confidence that the punishment is 'grossly disproportionate' to the crime." Id. at 37 (Breyer, J., dissenting).