EWING v. CALIFORNIA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
01-6978
Petitioner 
Gary Ewing
Respondent 
California
Opinion 
Advocates
(for United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondent)
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

On March 12, 2000, Gary Ewing, a serial offender with a long history of criminal convictions, was arrested for stealing three golf clubs, each worth $399, from a Los Angeles-area golf course. At the time of his arrest, Ewing was on parole from a 9-year prison term for convictions in three burglaries and one robbery. Under California's three strikes law, another felony conviction would require a sentence of 25 years to life. Ewing was charged with and convicted of one count of felony grand theft for the incident at the golf course. During sentencing, Ewing requested the judge in the case exercise discretion permitted under California law and reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor. The judge declined and sentenced Ewing in accordance with the three strikes law. On appeal, Ewing argued the sentence of 25 years to life was grossly disproportionate to the crime and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments. The court, reasoning that the three strikes law served the state's legitimate interests, rejected this claim. The California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Question 

Did Ewing's sentence of 25 years to life, in accordance with California's three strikes law, violate the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for California, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

No. In a 5-4 plurality decision authored by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court, relying heavily on its decision in Rummel v. Estelle (1980), concluded that Ewing's long history of legal offenses justified his conviction. In Rummel, the Court had ruled that a sentence of life with the possibility of parole was valid for three convictions of fraud, check forgery, and theft. In that case, the Court gave great deference to legislatures in mandating sentences for repeat offenders. Justice O'Connor writes that, as in Rummel, Ewing's conviction reflects "rational legislative judgment" and "is justified by the State's public-safety interest in incapacitating and deterring recidivist felons."

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EWING v. CALIFORNIA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 30 August 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2002/2002_01_6978>.
EWING v. CALIFORNIA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2002/2002_01_6978 (last visited August 30, 2014).
"EWING v. CALIFORNIA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 30, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2002/2002_01_6978.