Solem v. Helm 463 U.S. 277 (1983)

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SOLEM v. HELM 463 U.S. 277 (1983)

Expanding the coverage of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause, the Supreme Court held that in addition to barbaric sentences it prohibits criminal sentences that are disproportionate to the crime for which a defendant is convicted. Jerry Helm, a habitual offender, passed a bad check and received the most severe punishment—life imprisonment without possibility of parole—that South Dakota could impose for any crime. A 5–4 Court decided that because Helm's six prior felony convictions were for relatively minor nonviolent crimes against property and because he was treated more severely than other criminals who had committed more serious crimes, his sentence was significantly disproportionate to his crime. The dissenting Justices saw "judicial usurpation" of state sentencing discretion, especially in cases of incorrigible recidivists.

Leonard W. Levy