Washington Law Review


Marc G. Wilhelm


In 1967 George Wanstreet was convicted of forging a forty-three dollar check and received a life sentence under West Virginia's recidivist statute. This statute, one of the two harshest in the nation, requires life imprisonment for persons convicted of three felonies. Wanstreet had been convicted in 1951 for forging an eighteen dollar check and in 1955 for arson of a barn valued at $490. He had been in prison more than ten years for the 1967 conviction when the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals held, in Wanstreet v. Bordenkircher, that his sentence violated the proportionality clause of the West Virginia Constitution. This Note begins by reviewing the proportionality doctrine and its application by the courts. It describes the Wanstreet court's reasoning and analyzes the proportionality test used by the court. The Note concludes that West Virginia's recidivist statute should be declared unconstitutional under the state's proportionality clause because it fails to differentiate between crimes of differing moral culpability.

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