It is very rare to see the 8th Amendment applied in favor of the defendant in non-death case. However, Judge Beverly Martin, of the Northern District of Georgia, in U.S. v. Farley , did just that. The Court held that:
... a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for Mr. Farley, under the specific facts of his case, is so grossly disproportionate to his crime as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.... [T]he court finds it relevant that Mr. Farley committed no sexual act with a child, and that he was a first time offender with no evidence in the record that he is anything other than a low risk for repeating his crime. While Mr. Farley’s crime is deplorable, it is far less grave than crimes committed by perpetual offenders that remain a demonstrated threat to the public, or crimes that result in loss of or emotional devastation to a person’s life.
While I think it is refreshing to see a Court seriously consider an 8th Amendment challenge in a non-death case, I'm a bit confused by the court's reasoning in places. In discussing the statute, Judge Martin interpreted the legislative history as follows:
In the court’s view, the drafters’ use of “AGGRAVATED SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN” does not make it clear that the amendment applies to Mr. Farley’s crime of “cross[ing] a State line with intent to engage in a sexual act with a person who has not attained the age of 12 years.” The court’s reading of the Bill alone suggests that the 30-year minimum applies only to aggravated sexual abuse. The Committee Reports accompanying the Bill are the same. The Senate Report states that the Bill includes enhancements such as “mandatory assured penalties for crimes of violence against children, including . . . a mandatory 30 year penalty for anyone who commits aggravated sexual abuse against a child.” S. Rep. No. 109-369, Dec. 8, 2006, Ex. A to Reply Br., at 2 (emphasis added). The House Report similarly provides that Section 2241 would be amended to “impose a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years to life for knowingly engaging in a sexual act with either a child less than 12 years old, or a child that is 12-16 years old by using force or intoxicants if the perpetrator is at least four years older than the child.” H. Rep. No. 109-218, Ex. B to Reply Br., at 1 (emphasis added).
If the Court truly felt this was the case, then I'm confused why the opinion was not simply issued on statutory grounds (and thus avoiding the constitutional question).It's not that I don't find the Court's 8th Amendment analysis to be interesting and well argued; I just wonder why the judge didn't limit her ruling to statutory grounds by holding that the mandatory minimum didn't apply to Farley. Perhaps I have missed something in my initial quick read. Either way, the opinion is a very interesting read!