BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 10 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

Because we believed that a review of this case would help to illuminate "the character of the standard that will identify unconstitutionally excessive awards" of punitive damages, see Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg, 512 U. S. 415, 420 (1994), we granted certiorari, 513 U. S. 1125 (1995).


Punitive damages may properly be imposed to further a State's legitimate interests in punishing unlawful conduct and deterring its repetition. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U. S. 323, 350 (1974); Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U. S. 247, 266-267 (1981); Haslip, 499 U. S., at 22. In our federal system, States necessarily have considerable flexibility in determining the level of punitive damages that they will allow in different classes of cases and in any particular case. Most States that authorize exemplary damages afford the jury similar latitude, requiring only that the damages awarded be reasonably necessary to vindicate the State's legitimate interests in punishment and deterrence. See TXO, 509 U. S., at 456; Haslip, 499 U. S., at 21, 22. Only when an award can fairly be categorized as "grossly excessive" in relation to these interests does it enter the zone of arbitrariness that violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Cf. TXO, 509 U. S., at 456. For that reason, the federal excessiveness inquiry appropriately begins with an identification of the state interests that a punitive award is designed to serve. We therefore focus our attention first on the scope of Alabama's legitimate interests in punishing BMW and deterring it from future misconduct.

No one doubts that a State may protect its citizens by prohibiting deceptive trade practices and by requiring auto-(2) that the award should have been based on Alabama conduct, respect for the error-free portion of the jury verdict would seem to produce an award of $56,000 ($4,000 multiplied by 14, the number of repainted vehicles sold in Alabama).

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