"Not less than" penalties for criminal violations

Have there been any state or federal cases that limit the applicability to laws which state penalties of “not less than” a certain amount?

For example, many laws in this state say that a person who is guilty of X shall be sentenced to a penalty of “not less than 10 years in prison” or shall be fined “not less than twenty dollars.”

By those literal terms, there is no maximum. One could be sentenced to 100 trillion years in prison or fined $1 google-plex dollars. Does anything constrict sentencing judges in these cases?

Appeals courts do.

On second thought - can you give a link to one of such laws?

8th Amendment.

I am convicted of this crime, and the judge notes the language of the statute. He sentences me to a hillion jillion years in prison. This seems to literally be allowed by the statute as it is not less than ten years.

The 8th amendment might prohibit excessive fines (but what is excessive?) and cruel and unusual punishment, but how can one say that imprisonment is cruel and unusual? It’s done all of the time.

Sadly, the founders said “cruel AND unusual”, so a punishment must meet both tests in order to be unconstitutional. A trillion dollar fine may be unusual, but is not particularly cruel in and of itself. No more cruel than a thousand dollar fine, to a person who doesn’t have it and no means to earn it.

One could argue that any monetary fine is cruel, in that it punishes all the innocent people (without due process) who peripherally depend on the defendant for their livelihood.

I don’t have a cite handy, but a law professor wrote a treatise that the term “cruel and unusual” was a term of art in law at the time and means one specific thing. One cannot parse the words “cruel” and then “unusual” because the phrase itself means something. The phrase was in use for hundreds of years prior to its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.

I asked the question because I haven’t seen any case law in WV on this law. Under our law, a prisoner must serve 1/4 of his determinate sentence before he is eligible for parole. So under the robbery law, if he gets 10 years, he will be eligible for parole after 2 1/2 years. The highest term I have ever seen in case law under this statute is 80 years in prison (parole eligibility in 20). The judge looks at the past criminal history and the severity of the robbery to set a sentence.

I was just wondering if a judge found a guy to be particularly bad, could he sentence him to 500 years in prison? (effectively: Life sentence, no parole unless he lives 125 years) We don’t even need to be hyperbolic and talk about trillions of years in prison.

Does it matter if the guy is 60, 70, 80, or 18 years old?

In my experience these “not less laws” are on top of a. Roarer statutory scheme. Burglary may be a Class C felony, for example. By definition p, the maximum penalty would be something like five or ten years. The “not less than a year in prison” in a mandatory minimum, but the maximum is still there.

When I see “not less than,” it usually seems to be attached to some special case of something that would be in a category of crime with a lower minimum. Parking in a place not zoned for parking would usually not warrant a very high fine, but if you park by a hydrant, the fine is not less than something pretty high (I don’t remember what it is), and if it’s a handicapped-designated space, and you don’t have a permit, around here, the fine is “not less than $500,” and that is for a first offense.

My state like a few others still use the common law and haven’t adopted the Model Penal Code which uses these classifications.

What makes these types of laws more concerning is that penalties which involve life imprisonment trigger a number of protections for the defendant (no death penalty in WV; life imprisonment is a punishment only for 1st degree murder and kidnapping). But if you are faced with the possibility of consecutive sentences or this statute where one could get hundreds of years in prison, then the same protections are not triggered. I find that troubling.

No, you’re wrong. I know of a case where they actually tried this argument. And the judge dismissed it by ruling that that a punishment is unconstitutional if it is cruel or unusual.