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

Same-Sex Divorce

04 Feb 2014 06:54pm Tracy A. Thomas 

In this article, Professor Tracy Thomas examines the various ways in which states address same-sex divorce, and highlights the different reasoning that courts have employed to allow same-sex couples to dissolve their unions, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. 

When God Spikes Your Drink: Guilty Without Mens Rea

30 Dec 2013 09:06pm Fredrick E. Vars 

Professor Fredrick Vars criticizes the Supreme Court's recent decision in Metrish v. Lancaster. That case broadened the prohibition on introducing evidence of mental illness to negate intent in criminal cases. Because many states allow evidence of intoxication on intent, Professor Vars argues that it is illogical and unfair to prohibit evidence of mental illness.

The Messy History of the Federal Eminent Domain Power: A Response to William Baude

19 Dec 2013 08:49pm Christian R. Burset 

In this response to William Baude's article, Rethinking the Federal Eminent Domain Power, Christian Burset challenges Baude's claim that antebellum legislators, commentators, and judges uniformly refused to acknowledge a federal eminent domain power. Examining historical sources and case law, Burset highlights how changing political attitudes influenced historic beliefs about the ability of the federal government to condemn land within state boundaries.



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.