The Warren Court (1953–69)

Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Rights

What case involving a wartime deserter led to a landmark standard under the Eighth Amendment?

The Warren Court ruled in Trop v. Dulles (1958) that a statute authorizing a wartime deserter to be expatriated (forfeit one’s U.S. citizenship) was excessive punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Albert Trop, a private in the U.S. army, escaped from a stockade in Casablanca where he had been held for a disciplinary violation. Upon his capture, the army court-martialed Trop for desertion, sentencing him to three years of hard labor and a dishonorable discharge. Several years later, Trop applied for a U.S. passport. Officials denied his request, citing a provision of the Nationality Act of 1940 that provided that wartime deserters were no longer U.S citizens. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the statute violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment. “The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” the Court wrote. The “evolving standards of decency” has become the modern-day Supreme Court’s guidepost in capital punishment cases.


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