Excessive Sentencing Project - Idaho

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Idaho.

Return to the Map

  • Idaho allows for discretionary parole. See Idaho Code § 19-2513. 
  • Idaho allows for mandatory LWOP and JLWOP. See Idaho Code § 18-4004. 
  • Idaho does not provide a minimum age for juvenile transfer to adult court. See Idaho Code § 20-509(4). 

State Constitution

Idaho Const. Art. I, § 6 (2012)

§ 6. Right to bail -- Cruel and unusual punishments prohibited 

All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, where the proof is evident or the presumption great. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excess fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

NOTE: The Eighth Amendment and Art. I, § 6 require very similar proportionality tests.  Art. I, § 6 tracks the Eighth Amendment.

Sentencing Statutes

  • Sentencing Guidelines System – Idaho does not have sentencing guidelines
  • Habitual Offender Act – Idaho Code § 19-2514  (2012)
    • § 19-2514. Persistent violator -- Sentence on third conviction for felony. Any person convicted for the third time of the commission of a felony, whether the previous convictions were had within the state of Idaho or were had outside the state of Idaho, shall be considered a persistent violator of law, and on such third conviction shall be sentenced to a term in the custody of the state board of correction which term shall be for not less than five (5) years and said term may extend to life.

  • Post Conviction Relief Act – Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act, I.C. § 19-4901
    • The Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act, I.C. § 19-4901, provides a civil remedy for criminal offenders sentenced to cruel or unusual or illegal sentences. The offender must prove, by a preponderance of evidence, the allegations upon which the request for post-conviction relief is based. I.C. § 19-4907; Evans v. State, 127 Idaho 662, 664 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995)(citing Russell v. State, 118 Idaho 65, 67 (Idaho Ct. App. 1990)). 

    • To determine what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Uniform Sentencing Act, Idaho courts treat “the minimum period of incarceration as the duration of confinement.” State v. Shanahan, 133 Idaho 896, 899 (Idaho Ct. App. 1999) (citing State v. Matteson, 123 Idaho 622, 62 (Idaho 1993); State v. Daniel, 127 Idaho 801, 804 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995)).

  •  Death Penalty Proportionality –
    • Under I.C. § 19-2827 (review of death sentences), the Supreme Court is required to “independently review the sentence and determine (1) whether the sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor; (2) whether the evidence supports the judge's findings of a statutory aggravating circumstance; and (3) whether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.” State v. Card, 121 Idaho 425 (Idaho 1991); see also State v. Dunlap, 125 Idaho 530, 537-538 (Idaho 1993); State v. Lankford, 116 Idaho 860, 877-878 (Idaho 1989).

    • Regarding the third prong of the death sentence review, the court makes a de novo determination of the proportionality of the sentence after reviewing the (1) nature and motive of the defendant; (2) heinous nature of the crime; and (3) nature and character of the defendant. State v. Dunlap, 125 Idaho 530, 538 (Idaho 1993).

Case Law


"When a sentence is within the statutory limits, we will review the sentence for an abuse of discretion." State v. Farwell, 144 Idaho 732, 734-35 (Idaho 2007) (citing State v. Knighton, 143 Idaho 318, 319 (Idaho 2006)).

State Constitution & Proportionality 

Generally, the issue of excessiveness may not be considered for the first time on appeal. Evans v. State, 127 Idaho 662, 664 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995) (citing State v. Fodge, 121 Idaho 192, 195 (Idaho 1992); Sanchez v. Arave, 120 Idaho 321, 322 (Idaho 1991)).

Nevertheless, the Idaho Supreme Court “has customarily and routinely considered claims that sentences violate the Eighth Amendment because of excessive length where that constitutional challenge was not presented to the trial court.” State v. Jensen, 138 Idaho 941, 945-946 (Idaho Ct. App. 2003); see also, State v. Shanahan, 133 Idaho 896, 899 (Idaho Ct. App. 2000); State v. Thomas, 133 Idaho 682, 688 (Idaho Ct. App. 1999); State v. Rogerson, 132 Idaho 53, 57 (Idaho Ct. App. 1998).

The burden of demonstrating that a sentence is cruel and unusual is on the person asserting the constitutional violation. Gibson v. Bennett, 141 Idaho 270, 275 (Idaho Ct. App. 2005)(citing State v. Clay, 124 Idaho 329, 332 (Idaho Ct. App. 1993)).

Continue reading below

Ordinarily, if a sentence falls within the statutory limits, the sentence will not be considered cruel and unusual punishment. State v. Kelly, 106 Idaho 268, 279 (Idaho Ct. App. 1984) (citing Watkins v. State, 101 Idaho 758 (Idaho 1980)).

The Idaho Supreme Court’s “analysis of whether a sentence violates Article I, Section 6, has traditionally tracked the U.S. Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.” State v. Draper, 151 Idaho 576, 599 (Idaho 2011).

The “gross proportionality” test is equivalent to the test under the Idaho Constitution, which asks whether the defendant’s punishment is “out of proportion to the gravity of the offense committed and such as to shock the conscious of reasonable people.” State v. Brown, 121 Idaho 385, 394 (Idaho 1992); Gibson v. Bennett, 141 Idaho 270, 275 (Idaho Ct. App. 2005); State v. Olivera, 131 Idaho 628 (Idaho Ct. App. 1998); State v. Matteson, 123 Idaho 622, 626-627 (Idaho 1993).

If an inference of “gross proportionality” is found, the court must conduct a subsequent proportionality analysis. Id. See also State v. Matteson, 123 Idaho 622, 626, 851 P.2d 336, 340; State v. Olivera, 131 Idaho at 632, 962 P.2d 399, 403.

Continue reading below

Featured Products

An "intra- and inter-jurisdictional" analysis is "appropriate only in the rare case" where the sentence is grossly disproportionate to the crime committed. State v. Wright, 147 Idaho 150 (Idaho Ct. App. 2009) (citing State v. Grazian, 144 Idaho 510, 517 (Idaho 2007); State v. Matteson, 123 Idaho 622, 626 (Idaho 1993)).

“To establish that the sentence imposed was improper, the defendant must show that in light of the governing criteria, [the] sentence was excessive under any reasonable view of the facts.” State v. Brown, 121 Idaho 385, 392-393 (Idaho 1992)(quoting State v. Broadhead, 120 Idaho 141, 143-145 (Idaho 1991)).

The objectives of sentencing, against which the reasonableness of a sentence is to be measured are: (1) the protection of society; (2) the deterrence of crime; (3) the rehabilitation of the offender; and (4) punishment or retribution. State v. Wright, 147 Idaho 150, 161 (Idaho Ct. App. 2009). In examining the reasonableness of a sentence, we conduct an independent review of the record, focusing on the nature of the offense and the character of the offender. Id.

"A sentence is reasonable if at the time of imposition it appears necessary to achieve 'the primary objective of protecting society and to achieve any or all of the related goals of deterrence, rehabilitation or retribution applicable to the given case.'" State v. Draper, 151 Idaho 576, 599-600 (Idaho 2011) (quoting State v. Lundquist, 134 Idaho 831, 836 (Idaho 2000)).

Where reasonable minds might differ regarding the appropriateness of a sentence, the discretion vested in the sentencing court will be respected. State v. Brown, 121 Idaho 385, 393 (Idaho 1992).

Idaho courts perform proportionality analysis in death penalty cases and “to those cases which are ‘out of proportion to the gravity of the offense committed’ in the cruel and unusual punishment setting similar to the ‘grossly disproportionate’ analysis” of Kennedy in Harmelin. The court must compare defendant’s crimes and the sentence to determine if gross disproportionality exists, a threshold question. State v. Moore, 127 Idaho 780, 783-784 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995); State v. Shanahan, 133 Idaho 896, 899 (Idaho Ct. App. 1999); State v. Jenkins, 133 Idaho 747 (Idaho Ct. App. 1999); State v. Toney, 130 Idaho 858, 861 (Idaho Ct. App. 1997); State v. Robertson, 130 Idaho 287, 289 (Idaho Ct. App. 1997); State v. Pugsley, 128 Idaho 168, 179 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995); State v. Schneider, 126 Idaho 624 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995).

When conducting a proportionality analysis, consideration must be given to the youth and immaturity of the offender, as teenagers are less able to evaluate the consequences of their actions and are must more likely than adults to be motivated by peer pressure. State v. Moore, 127 Idaho 780, 783-784 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995).

Under the Idaho Constitution, a court may sentence a defendant to a penalty for a lesser included offense that exceeds the maximum penalty authorized for a greater offense. State v. Goodrick, 102 Idaho 811, 813 (Idaho 1982).           

Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller  

State v. Windom, 150 Idaho 873, 253 P.3d 310 (March, 2011) (Graham does not apply to non-homicide cases so LWOP is proper; dissent does not agree, arguing court should apply the principle of Graham, i.e. juveniles are less culpable than adults.) 

State v. Draper, 151 Idaho 576, 261 P.3d 853 (September 13, 2011) (fixed life sentence is not categorically barred by Graham