Defendant Convicted of Possessing 672 Grams of Cocaine Awarded Life Imprisonment Without Parole
In Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 115 L. Ed. 2d 836, 111 S. Ct. 2680 (1991), the defendant was convicted of possessing 672 grams of cocaine.
He received life imprisonment without parole. Id. at 961.
The Court upheld the sentence.
Justice Scalia, in a plurality opinion joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, argued that "Solem was simply wrong" and that proportionality review should apply only in death penalty cases. Id. at 965, 994.
Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices O'Connor and Souter, which interpreted Solem as adopting a "narrow proportionality principle." Id. at 997 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment).
According to Justice Kennedy, "the Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence. Rather, it forbids only extreme sentences that are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crime." Id. at 1001 (quoting Solem, 463 U.S. at 288).
Justice Kennedy rejected the idea that Solem had "announced a rigid three-part test" for proportionality. Id. at 1004.
Instead, he concluded that the second and third factors from Solem, which involve comparative analysis, "are appropriate only in the rare case in which a threshold comparison of the crime committed and the sentence imposed leads to an inference of gross disproportionality." Id. at 1005.
Finding no such inference in Harmelin, Justice Kennedy began and ended his analysis with the first factor from Solem. See id. at 1004.
The four dissenters criticized Justice Kennedy's concurrence for "abandoning the second and third factors set forth in Solem" and thereby "making any attempt at an objective proportionality analysis futile." Id. at 1020 (White, J., dissenting).