Current Issue

Reviving the Excessive Fines Clause

15 Apr 2014 01:05am Beth A. Colgan 

Millions of American adults and children struggle with debt stemming from economic sanctions issued by the criminal and juvenile courts. For those unable to pay, the consequences— including incarceration, exclusion from public benefits, and persistent poverty—can be draconian and perpetual. The Supreme Court has nevertheless concluded that many of these concerns lie outside the scope of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. In interpreting the Clause, the Court relied upon a limited set of historical sources to restrict “fines” to sanctions that are punitive in nature and paid exclusively to the government, and to define “excessive” as referring to—either exclusively or primarily—the proportionality between the crime’s gravity and the amount of the fine.

This Article takes the Court at its word by assuming history is constitutionally relevant, but it challenges the Court’s limited use of history by providing the first detailed analysis of colonial and early American statutory and court records regarding fines. This robust historical analysis belies the Court’s use of history to announcehistorical “truths” to limit the scope of the Clause, by showing significant evidence that contradicts those limitations. The Article uses the historical record to identify questions regarding the Clause’s meaning, to assess the quality of the historical evidence suggesting an answer to such questions, and then to consider that evidence— according to its value—within a debate that incorporates contemporary understandings of just punishment. Under the resulting interpretation, the historical evidence articulated in this Article would support an understanding of a “fine” as a deprivation of anything of economic value in response to a public offense. “Excessive,” in turn, would be assessed through a broad understanding of proportionality that takes account of both offense and offender characteristics, as well as the effect of the fine on the individual. The proposed interpretation more faithfully reflects the history and its limitations, and broadens the Clause’s scope to provide greater individual protections.

Circuit

Wawrzynski v. H.J. Heinz Co.: The Lucky Ketchup Packet

19 Apr 2014 03:10pm Lauren Blakely 

For years, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit have dismissed state law claims by small inventors on the grounds that federal patent law preempts state laws offering patent-like protections. Recently, David Wawrzynski, a man who claims he invented the idea for Heinz's new "Dip & Squeeze®" ketchup packet, filed state law claims against Heinz alleging it stole his idea. Instead of dismissing his claims, the Federal Circuit transferred the case to another court for a decision on the merits. This case note explores precedent and policy in an effort to understand why claims related to this ketchup packet invention were lucky enough to escape dismissal.    

Koontz v. St. Johns: Expanding Property Rights in Takings Jurisprudence

19 Apr 2014 03:07pm Christopher Hammond 

The U.S. Supreme Court recently revisited the scope of the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause--this time, in the land-use permitting context. In this Casenote, the author argues that the Court in Koontz v. St. Johns properly prioritized the right at issue over the means by which the government might infringe upon it and, in so doing, provided a broader jurisprudential view of property protections under the U.S. Constitution.    

How Should Lower Courts Interpret Plurality Decisions?: Exploring Options Through United States v. Duvall

19 Apr 2014 03:04pm Christopher Sung 

In this Casenote, Christopher Sung examines the D.C. Circuit's decision in United States v. Duvall, a case that illustrates the difficulty the D.C. Circuit has had in interpreting the Supreme Court's plurality decision in Freeman v. United States. Sung analyzes the Supreme Court's method for interpreting plurality decisions, the Marks rule, and potential alternatives to the rule. Ultimately, Sung argues that Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion should be the controlling opinion of Freeman.    



The California Law Review is the preeminent legal publication at the UC Berkeley School of Law.
Founded in 1912, CLR publishes six times per year on a variety of engaging topics in legal scholarship.
The law review is edited and published entirely by students at Berkeley Law.