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The Eighth Amendment bans “cruel and unusual punishment” and the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions. The focus can be on the defendant’s age, mental status, race, economic status, and the proportionality of the crime to the offender and the offense. For example, the court determined in Miller v. Alabama, that a law in that state that provided a mandatory life sentence, without the possibility of parole, for a 14-year-old offender, violates the Amendment. Whether the punishment meted out in a case where such categories are not at issue, is cruel or unusual, depends on whether the sentence is grossly disproportionate to the crime itself: A simple theft of a loaf of bread should not warrant a 10-year-sentence in prison. Also, as we have seen lately, death penalty cases can direct cruel and unusual analysis towards the methodology employed by the state to cause death ( the type of chemicals the states use when injecting the condemned prisoner).

The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court now has an opportunity to strike down a mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentence given to “Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain, was arrested in July 2011 for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s house in Dothan, Ala., where he lived. For this crime, Mr. Brooker was given a life sentence with no possibility of release”.

The court should not hesitate to deem the Alabama statute violative of the Eighth Amendment. The law is draconian, useless, unfair and ugly. Too often, thanks in part to former President Clinton (and Hillary) for supporting mandatory minimum sentencing laws, on the federal level, the country has littered the prisons with often non-violent and low-level drug offenders. These federal statutes and those at issue in Alabama are absurd and need to be taken off the books. The high court should act quickly.

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