The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment upon persons convicted of a crime. The Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause limits criminal punishment in three ways: (1) it “imposes substantive limits on what can be made criminal and punished as such;” (2) it prohibits certain kinds of punishment; and (3) it prohibits punishment “grossly disproportionate” to the severity of the offense.

In Solem v. Helm, the Supreme Court established three criteria for analyzing the proportionality of sentences: (1) a comparison of the gravity of the offense with the harshness of the penalty; (2) a comparison of the sentence with those imposed for various offenses in the same jurisdiction; and (3) a comparison of the sentence with those imposed for the same or similar offenses in other jurisdictions. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court expanded its holding in Graham v. Florida, finding that sentences of mandatory life imprisonment without parole for defendants under eighteen will always violate the Eighth Amendment.

In Harmelin v. Michigan, the Court did not agree on the proper approach to an Eighth Amendment claim under Solem: two Justices argued that the Eighth Amendment does not guarantee proportionality of sentences. The three-Justice concurrence argued that the second and third factors of Solem should only be considered “to validate an initial judgment that a sentence is grossly disproportionate to a crime.” The dissent advocated for the continued application of the three-prong Solem test, with “no one factor ... be[ing] dispositive.”

The Solem Court envisioned that invalidation of sentences based upon disproportionality would occur infrequently. Appellate courts generally do not disturb sentences imposed for noncapital felony convictions that fall within statutorily prescribed limits.

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