Arizona Court Interprets Eighth Amendment in Sexual Misconduct Case


Under the U.S. Constitution as well as the Arizona Constitution, the Eighth Amendment protects individuals from “cruel and unusual punishment.” Courts interpret this standard differently in different contexts. In a new case coming out of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, the court offered some guidance about interpreting the Eighth Amendment in relation to a defendant’s lengthy prison sentence.

Procedural History

In the opinion, the court detailed the facts of the case: the defendant, when he was 15 and 16 years old, committed repeated forced sexual acts on two young children that he was responsible for babysitting. The children came forward a couple of years later, and the defendant was arrested and tried after he turned 18 years old. He pled not guilty, and a jury found him guilty of four counts of sexual conduct with a minor, plus four counts of molestation of a child. The trial court sentenced the defendant to a minimum prison term of 208 years, meaning he would be in prison for the rest of his life.

The defendant appealed the trial court’s sentencing decision, arguing that under the Eighth Amendment, the sentence was unnecessarily harsh. Especially considering that he was a teenager at the time, argued the defendant, the court sentenced him to time that was not proportionate with the severity of his crimes.

Eighth Amendment

The appellate court disagreed, given the offensive nature of the defendant’s behavior. Here, said the court, the defendant engaged in the sexual conduct many times over the course of many months. The children were between six and nine years old, and the sexual acts themselves were violent in nature. Even though the defendant himself was a teenager, he was fifteen and sixteen years old, suggesting he was old enough to know better. The court’s sentence was long, said the higher court, but it wasn’t disproportionate to the severity of the defendant’s crimes.

The court therefore decided that the trial court’s sentencing decision did not violate the defendant’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. While the Amendment protects individuals from “cruel and unusual” punishment, the punishment here did not meet that high standard. Thus, said the court, the defendant’s convictions and resulting sentence would remain in place.

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If you or a loved one has been criminally charged in Arizona, give our office a call to talk through a defense strategy that works for you. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we are proud to diligently and aggressively fight for the accused. Trial courts can be harsh when deciding defendants’ sentences, and at our firm, we know how to strategize and fight back in order to get our clients the best outcome possible. If you haven’t yet spoken with an experienced Phoenix sex crimes attorney about your case, call us today for a free and confidential consultation at (480) 413-1499. You can also fill out our online form to tell us about your case and have an attorney reach back out to you as soon as possible.


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