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Perkins v. State of North Carolina

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Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was convicted and sentenced to prison for over 20 years for performing a homosexual act with another man. Appellant contends punishment was cruel and unusual and in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. If the sentence is within statutory limits even the harshest sentence, absent exceptional circumstances, is not cruel or unusual within the meaning of the Constitution.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment is directed, in part, against all punishments which by their excessive length or severity are greatly disproportioned to the offenses charged.

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Facts. Appellant Perkins and Mr. McCorkle were jointly indicted and charged with committing a crime against nature with each other. Appellant was convicted by a jury and sentenced to over 20 years of jail time. The statute Appellant was convicted under was adopted in 1837. Appellant petitioned on a writ of habeas corpus which was granted.

Issue. Whether the Eighth Amendment prevents the punishment imposed on Appellant

Held. Appellant’s counsel was not afforded reasonable opportunity to investigate and prepare for trial and thus Appellant was deprived of effective aid and assistance of counsel. Appellant should be released within 60 days unless North Carolina elects to try him again.
The exact scope of the phrase ‘cruel and unusual’ has not been detailed by this court. The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

The Amendment is directed against all punishments which by their excessive length or severity are greatly disproportionate to the offenses charges.

If the sentence is within the statutory limits even the harshest sentence, absent exceptional circumstances is not cruel or unusual within the meaning of the Constitution.


Discussion. The Court started with an analysis regarding whether the imposition of a 20 year sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The Court ruled that it was not because it was within the statutory limits for punishment and there were not exceptional circumstances to justify overturning the sentence. However, through the opinion, the Court expressed concern with the punishment. The Court found it hard to believe that child molesters could receive lesser sentences than Appellant had received here.


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