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Life sentence to ease up for a bad-check writer

The Supreme Court spared a South Dakota man from serving the rest of his life in jail without hope of parole for writing a $100 bad check. The justices, voting 5 to 4, upheld a ruling that found the sentence ''grossly disproportionate'' to Jerry Buckley Helm's crimes and violated the Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment. Helm was given the harsh sentence because it was his seventh nonviolent felony conviction. That made him a habitual offender, subject under South Dakota law to punishment more severe than his crime would normally merit.

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