Law School Case Brief
Adaway v. State - 902 So. 2d 746 (Fla. 2005)
Through the thicket of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, one governing legal principle emerges as "clearly established," namely, that a gross disproportionality principle is applicable to sentences for terms of years. In other words, to violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, a prison sentence must, at least, be grossly disproportionate to the crime.
Defendant Darrick Terrell Adaway sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl while she slept in the bedroom she shared with her siblings. Adaway, who was 36 years old at the time, entered the bedroom, woke the victim, and told her to pull down her underwear. He then touched her vagina with his tongue. The State charged Adaway with sexual battery on a child under 12 in violation of section 794.011(2), Florida Statutes (1999), and with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under 12 in violation of section 800.04(5)(b), Florida Statutes (1999). A jury in Florida state court convicted Adaway of both charges. The trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the sexual battery charge, which was a mandatory sentence under section 775.082(1), Florida Statutes (1999). The court also sentenced him to 30 years' imprisonment on the lewd or lascivious molestation charge. On appeal, Adaway argued that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole was grossly disproportionate to his crime and therefore violated both the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the United States Constitution and the former Cruel or Unusual Punishment Clause of the Florida Constitution. The appellate court disagreed and upheld Adaway's sentence. Adaway appealed.
Did a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for oral union with the vagina of a girl under the age of 12 constitute either cruel and unusual punishment (in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution) or cruel or unusual punishment (in violation of the former version of article I, section 17 of the Florida Constitution)?
The state supreme court held that Adaway's sentence of life imprisonment without parole for the crime of oral union with the genitals of a child under the age of twelve does not violate either the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 17 of the Florida Constitution. According to the court, Fla. Stat. ch. 794.011(1)(h) (1999) defined sexual battery as oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object, and when a person at least 18 years old committed sexual battery on a person under 12, the statute deemed it a capital felony, punishable as provided in Fla. Stat chs. 775.082 and 921.141. Moreover, the court held that for a prison sentence to constitute cruel and unusual punishment solely because of its length, the sentence had to be grossly disproportionate to the crime. In the case at bar, the court averred that Adaway failed to demonstrate gross disproportionality. Given the array of potentially lifelong harms associated with sexual abuse of children, the court declined to second-guess the Florida Legislature's judgment that such a crime warranted a lifelong penalty.
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