If a federal bill reduces a sentence for a crime, can a prisoner get relief at the state level, possibly by stating the original sentence was cruel and unusual punishment?

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    The prisoner might be able to argue in a federal habeas corpus proceeding that the sentence being served is cruel and unusual, based on the federal sentencing guidelines, but usually the federal courts look to state practice to make these determinations for federal law, not the other way around. – phoog Nov 4 '15 at 6:39

No. Federal criminal law doesn't control what state criminal sentences are, and Congress does not have the power to define what counts as "cruel and unusual" at the state level. It is quite common for federal sentences to be different from state ones.

  • What if the sentence was drastically reduced (cut in half - 10 years lower) at the federal level for the same crime at the state level? – user3194 Nov 4 '15 at 4:52
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    @Raven That is impossible. The crimes at the state and federal level are different crimes, enacted by different sovereigns and punishing offenses against different sovereigns. While they may cover substantially similar conduct, they are different offenses. There is nothing whatsoever tying the two statutes together, and no reason why a decision by the US Congress about a federal crime would change sentences for similar state crimes. That's not how US federalism works -- the two sentences were never connected. – cpast Nov 4 '15 at 4:59
  • @Raven Do you have a particular crime in mind? There is not generally all that much overlap. Most federal crimes have a specific federal angle (interstate commerce, or crimes against federal employees or foreign diplomats, for example). – phoog Nov 4 '15 at 6:34
  • @phoog Based on recent events, I assume drugs. – cpast Nov 4 '15 at 6:54

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