A Comparison of Comparative Proportionality Review in Punitive Damage Cases With That in Death Sentence Cases

Daniela Peterka, University of Cincinnati
Heidi Moore, Central Missouri State University
Donald H. Wallace, Central Missouri State University

In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has demonstrated its close attention to the issue of punitive damage awards in civil cases. The Court has held that excessive punitive damage awards violate constitutional due process guarantees, that an appellate court in reviewing punitive damage awards should sue a de novo standard rather than the more deferential abuse of discretion standard. Furthermore, the Court has instructed courts evaluating a punitive damages award to consider penalties imposed in comparable cases.

This attention can be contrasted with the attention the Court has demonstrated in death penalty cases, particularly with its treatment of comparative proportionality review (CPR). CPR requires the reviewing court to compare the death sentence in a case to similar cases to determine whether the sentence is excessive. However, as a consequence of the Court's disparagement of CPR, states that continue to independently require this review do not implement it in a meaningful manner.

This paper will examine the impact of the recent Supreme Court case law on appellate review of punitive damages with special interest in wrongful death actions. A comparison between the impact of this line of cases will be made to the CPR procedures in state courts.

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Updated 05/20/2006