Defining Cruel and Unusual Down: Life Sentences are the New Cruel

The judgment said: “For a life sentence to remain compatible with article 3 there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review.”


Back in the darkest days of American Jurisprudence, the Supreme Court decided that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it was cruel and unusual punishment. This would have come as news to the actual Founding Fathers, but the Supreme Court had moved on to a Living Constitution that took into account changing sensibilities.

That piece of unconstitutional SCOTUS insanity was eventually rolled back (denaturalization as cruel and unusual punishment has yet to be rolled back).

Meanwhile in Europe, the next frontier is life sentences.

Whole-life jail sentences without any prospect of release amount to inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, the European court of human rights has ruled.

The landmark judgment will set the ECHR on a fresh collision course with the UK government but does not mean that any of the applicants – the convicted murderers Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter – are likely to be released soon.

In its decision, the Strasbourg court said there had been a violation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.

The judgment said: “For a life sentence to remain compatible with article 3 there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review.”

Like the SCOTUS death penalty finding, this is wholly subjective. Cruel and unusual back in the day meant drawing and quartering or keelhauling, it didn't mean an electric chair. (Though Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin would have found an electric chair very unusual.) What is "degrading and inhuman"? It's entirely subjective.

And that's one reason why signing treaties and compacts with vague humanitarian language can be so dangerous. What sounds reasonable enough on a page is really a blank check for anything.

But exit question. What's really more inhuman and degrading... a murderer going to prison for life... or this kind of "compassionate and humane" European justice?

Majed, a 17-year-old Iraqi immigrant, stabbed his sister Maria to death inflicting 107 wounds with two knives and a pair of scissors.

His sister had returned to Landskrona after she broke up from a forced marriage in Iraq. She was found dead in his apartment in Landskrona on the evening of 23 April, the day after her birthday.

Majed’s lawyer thought that the original sentence of 8 years in prison was too harsh.

“I thought the sentence was very strong, it was a very tough punishment. I do not share at all the district court’s perception of the seriousness of the offense,” says the 17-year-old’s  defense attorney, Mr. Jansson.

And the defense attorney got his wish. The 8 year sentence has been reduced to 4. The court instead sentenced the boy to four years in juvenile detention because he was 16 when he killed his sister.

To the left this is humane. To non-evil people, it's monstrous.

Tags: Europe