Eighth Amendment

In a very brief, unauthored opinion the Supreme Court denied qualified immunity in Taylor v. Riojas to a number of correctional officers who confined Trent Taylor to a “pair of shockingly unsanitary cells” for six days. The Court didn’t hear oral argument in this case, and Justice Barrett didn’t participate in it.

In the last decade the Supreme Court has repeatedly overturned lower court refusals to grant police officers qualified immunity....

Without explanation the Supreme Court stayed a preliminary injunction requiring the Orange County California jail and jail officials to implement safety measures to protect inmates during the COVID–19 pandemic.

Justices Breyer and Kagan, without explaining their reasons, indicated they wouldn’t have granted the stay. Justice Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented from the Court’s decision to lift the injunction and explained why. 

According to the...

In Jones v. Mississippi the Supreme Court will decide whether the Eighth Amendment requires the sentencing authority to make a finding that a juvenile is “permanently incorrigible” before imposing a sentence of life without parole.

In Miller v. Alabama (2012) the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment bars life-without-parole sentences “for all but the rarest of...

In McKinney v. Arizona James Erin McKinney wants the Arizona Supreme Court out of his death penalty case. More specifically, the Supreme Court will decide whether a jury rather than a judge must weigh the factors mitigating against imposing a death sentence when the law at the time he was convicted allowed a judge to weigh mitigating factors. The Court also has agreed to decide whether a trial court rather than an appellate court must correct the failure to weigh relevant mitigating factors.

A jury found McKinney guilty of first-degree murder related to two separate burglaries and murders committed in 1991. McKinney had PTSD from his “horrific” childhood but the Arizona Supreme Court disallowed the sentancer to consider non-statutory mitigating evidence (including family background and mental condition) unconnected to the crime. In 1996 the trial court found the evidence of PTSD to be unconnected to the crime and sentenced McKinney to death.

Timbs v. Indiana has received a lot of attention because it deals with a controversial subject—civil asset forfeitures. But as a practical matter this case is unlikely to have much of an impact. What this case now requires under the federal constitution has long since been required under state constitutions.

 

In Timbs the Supreme Court held unanimously that the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause applies to states and local governments. This ruling is unsurprising given that the Supreme Court has “incorporated” almost all of the Bill of Rights against states and local governments since the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868.

 

The Supreme Court’s opinion explains why this case doesn’t change much. All 50 states constitutions have excessive fines clauses which apply to states and local governments—some for centuries. It is possible that some of these state constitutional provisions have been interpreted differently than the federal provision. But there is so little federal case law on what is an excessive fine that it is unlikely most interpretations of state constitutions contradict the scant federal case law.

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