Eighth Amendment Presumptive Penumbras (and Juvenile Offenders)

Author:William W. Berry III
Position:Montague Professor of Law, University of Mississippi
Pages:1-46
1
Eighth Amendment Presumptive
Penumbras (and Juvenile Offenders)
William W. Berry III*
ABSTRACT: Bright line constitutional rules tend to create unfair outcomes
in close proximity to the bright line. In the context of the death penalty, such
distinctions possess an entirely different level of seriousness that requires
deeper reflection. This Article develops the concept of presumptive penumbras
around capital constitutional bright lines and argues for its application to
juvenile offenders under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, the Article
advocates, within the current constitutional rules, for a presumption against
the imposition of the death penalty or juvenile life without parole in cases
where the age of the offender is in proximity to—within the penumbra of—the
bright line of age 18.
Part II of the Article explains the inherent problems that stem from bright line
rules and how both the Constitution and the death penalty exacerbate such
problems. In Part III, the Article advances a typology of “presumptive
penumbras”—a tool for minimizing the problems identified in Part II. Then,
in Part IV, the Article applies the concept of presumptive penumbras to bright
line rules related to juvenile offenders under the Eighth Amendment. Finally,
in Part V, the Article concludes by sketching out some additional potential
applications of presumptive penumbras to other criminal law bright lines
under the Eighth Amendment.
I.INTRODUCTION ................................................................................. 2
II.THE PROBLEM OF BRIGHT LINE RULES ............................................. 7
A.THE LIMITS OF BRIGHT LINES ..................................................... 7
B.CONSTITUTIONAL COMPLICATIONS ............................................ 10
*
Montague Professor of Law, University of Mississippi. The author would like to thank
the following students from his capital punishment seminar in the Fall of 2019 that generated
the lively discussion on this topic that inspired this Article: Derek Anderson, D.K. Boydstun, Bailey
Brown, Jon-Paul Bushnell, Lakyn Collier, Natasha Dorcent, Akeena Edwards, Conisha Hackett,
Kiara Hester, Terrence Hunter, Madeline Iles, Kaitlyn Jamison, Alan Langley, Allison Minicky,
Peyton Moore, Ashley Richardson, Seqouia Smith, Erika Thomas, and Will Williams. The author
would also like to thank the editors of the Iowa Law Review for their excellent work in preparing
this Article for publication.
2 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 106:1
C.EIGHTH AMENDMENT DIFFERENTNESS ........................................ 14
1.Death Penalty .................................................................. 15
2.Juvenile LWOP ................................................................ 17
III.EIGHTH AMENDMENT PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS........................... 18
A.EIGHTH AMENDMENT PENUMBRAS ............................................ 21
B.EIGHTH AMENDMENT PRESUMPTIONS ........................................ 24
C.PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS ......................................................... 29
IV.PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS AND JUVENILE BRIGHT LINES ............... 32
A.WHY PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS WORK FOR JUVENILES ................ 33
B.THE NARROW APPROACH: AN AGE 19 PRESUMPTIVE
PENUMBRA................................................................................ 34
1.Juvenile Death Penalty .................................................... 34
2.Juvenile LWOP ................................................................ 37
C.THE BROAD APPROACH: AN AGE 25 PRESUMPTIVE
PENUMBRA................................................................................ 39
1.Juvenile Death Penalty .................................................... 40
2.Juvenile LWOP ................................................................ 41
V.OTHER POSSIBLE EIGHTH AMENDMENT APPLICATIONS
OF PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS ......................................................... 44
A.INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY ........................................................ 44
B.RAPE CRIMES ............................................................................ 45
C.FELONY MURDER ....................................................................... 46
VI. CONCLUSION .................................................................................. 46
I. INTRODUCTION
Bright line constitutional rules tend to create unfair outcomes in close
proximity to the bright line.1 Strict liability crimes underscore this problem.2
1. See generally Albert W. Alschuler, Bright Line Fever and the Fourth Amendment, 45 U. PITT.
L. REV. 227 (1984) (highlighting unfair outcomes resulting from Fourth Amendment bright
lines); Wayne R. LaFave, “Case-by-Case Adjudication” Versus “Standardized Procedures”: The Robinso n
Dilemma, 1974 SUP. CT. REV. 127 (explaining the practical drawbacks to unworkable rules);
Steven J. Mulroy, The Bright Line’s Dark Side: Pre-Charge Attachment of the Sixth Amendme nt Right to
Counsel, 92 WASH. L. REV. 213 (2017) (arguing against the use of a bright-line Sixth Amendment
rule because it creates unfair outcomes).
2. Strict liability crimes do not require any particular mental state for conviction;
commission of the criminal act is enough for guilt. See, e.g., JOSHUA DRESSLER, UNDERSTANDING
CRIMINAL LAW 147–53 (7th ed. 2015). Typically, such crimes are limited to public welfare crimes
and are explicitly disfavored by the Supreme Court outside of that context. See, e.g., United States
v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 437–38 (1978) (explaining that statutes without a mens rea
have a “generally disfavored status” and indicating an interpretive presumption in favor of a mens
2020] EIGHTH AMENDMENT PRESUMPTIVE PENUMBRAS 3
Take, for instance, a speed limit of 40 miles per hour. With respect to safety,
the difference between driving 39 miles per hour and 41 miles per hour seems
negligible,3 and yet, the consequence could be significant in terms of
receiving a fine for speeding as opposed to being able to continue driving
without being stopped.4
This seems to become increasingly true the more arbitrary the chosen
bright line might be.5 If th e 40 mile per hour spee d limit resulted from careful
study of relevant data—perhaps showing a dramatically increased likelihood
of an accident once a driver crossed the 40 mile per hour threshold on the
particular stretch of road—then the bright line of 40 miles per hour would
justify the difference in treatment of the 39 mile per hour driver and the 41
mile per hour driver.6 On the other hand, if 40 miles per hour was arbitrarily
rea, even when a statute is silent); Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 250 (1952) (reading
a mens rea standard into a federal statute). For a deeper exploration of the presumption against
strict liability crimes and strict liability, see generally Douglas N. Husak, Varieties of Strict Liability ,
8 CANADIAN J.L. & JURIS. 189 (1995) (exploring varied types of strict liability); Arthur Leavens,
Beyond Blame—Mens Rea and Regulatory Crime, 46 U. LOUISVILLE L. REV. 1 (2007) (discussing the
drawbacks to distinguishing between blame and notice in analyzing mens rea); Stephen J. Morse,
Inevitable Mens Rea, 27 HARV. J.L. & PUB. POLY 51 (2003) (arguing that mens rea is an important
factor in determining culpability); Herbert L. Packer, Mens Rea and the Supreme Court, 1962 SUP.
CT. REV. 107 (providing a historical analysis of the Supreme Court’s varied approach to finding
a mens rea requirement); Frances Bowes Sayre, Public Welfare Offenses, 33 COLUM. L. REV. 55 (1933)
(arguing that an exception to mens rea can be appropriate only for a narrow set of offenses);
Kenneth W. Simons, When Is Strict Liability Just?, 87 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 1075 (1997)
(examining the appropriate application of strict liability in criminal cases); Richard A.
Wasserstrom, Strict Liability in the Criminal Law, 12 STAN. L. REV. 731 (1960) (arguing that not
all strict liability statutes are irrational); and John Shepard Wiley Jr., Not Guilty by Reason of
Blamelessness: Culpability in Federal Criminal Interpretation, 85 VA. L. REV. 1021 (1999) (examining
potential theories for the Supreme Court’s implicit mens rea requirement in statutory
interpretation).
3. See, e.g., Letty Aarts & Ingrid van Schagen, Driving Speed and the Risk of Road Crashes: A
Review, 38 ACCIDENT ANALYSIS & PREVENTION 215, 223 (2006) (finding on average that a one
percent change in speed would lead to a two percent change in injury accidents, a three percent
change in severe injury, and a four percent change in fatal accidents); see also D.C. RICHARDS,
DEPT FOR TRANSP., RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SPEED AND RISK OF FATAL INJURY: PEDESTRIANS AND
CAR OCCUPANTS 6 (2010), https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/relationship_
between_speed_risk_fatal_injury_pedestrians_and_car_occupants_richards.pdf [https://perma.cc/
9WJD-N97D](exploring a similar concept in the United Kingdom).
4. One might argue that police might exercise their discretion not to stop motorists that
do not significantly exceed (at least by five miles per hour) the speed limit. See generally Peter W.
Liu & Thomas A. Cook, Speeding Violation Dispositions in Relation to Police Officers’ Percep tion of the
Offenders, 15 POLICING & SOCY 83 (2005) (exploring the use of police discretion in speeding
stops). Such an exercise of discretion mirrors the presumptive penumbral conc ept advocated for
below. See infra Part III.
5. To review an extensive literature challenging the ability of bright lines to eliminate
arbitrary results, see generally Ofer Raban, The Fallacy of Legal Certainty: Why Vague Legal Standards
May Be Better for Capitalism and Liberalism, 19 B.U. PUB. INT. L.J. 175 (2010); Alschuler, supra note
1 (same); LaFave, supra note 1 (same); and Mulroy, supra note 1 (same).
6. See generally RICHARDS, supra note 3 (summarizing such studies that could be used for
the purpose of setting speed limits); Aarts & van Schagen, supra note 3 (same).

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