Punishment Must Be Appropriate To Crime

1910

In Weems v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court finds unconstitutional the sentence of an officer in the government of the Philippines (at that time a U.S. territory), who had been found guilty of falsifying an official document, because it amounts to “cruel and unusual” punishment. The Court rules that although “cruel and unusual” historically has referred to punishment that is “unhuman and barbarous,” such as “torture and the like,” it also can refer to punishment that by its length and harshness is out of proportion to the underlying crime.

The Court concludes that the punishment – 15 years in prison, hard labor, lifetime surveillance, and loss of other civil rights such as the right to vote, parental rights and the right to own property – is so out of proportion with the crime as to be “cruel and unusual.”