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What protections does the 8th Amendment provide to individuals subject to criminal charges?
The 8th Amendment prohibits the Federal Government from imposing “excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment” on individuals pursuant to criminal prosecution. These protections have been extended to state governments as well. The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment has been the subject to extensive interpretation over the years. This has particularly been the case with regard to capital punishment. Generally, the standard for what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment has become increasingly broad.
Discussion: Why to you think the trend toward what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is toward greater protection of defendants? What do you think is the justification behind prohibiting excessive bail for defendants? What about excessive fines?
There has been a notable shift toward less oppressive forms of punishment for individuals convicted of crimes. It is rare to hear about sentences involving hard labor. Practices, such as confinement to a hot box, digging ditches, busting rocks, etc., are no longer common. One could argue that court interpretation of what is “cruel and unusual” has become more sympathetic to the individual. In the case of excess bail, this tends to limit the options for lower-income individuals charged with a crime. Excessive fines can an equally disparate impact between rich and poor defendants.
Practice Question: Nancy is convicted of check fraud. The judge sentences Nancy to 100 hours of hard labor to be carried out during the hottest hours of the day. Are there any arguments against the constitutionality of this sentence?
The 8th Amendment states that excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted. This Amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing unduly harsh penalties on criminal defendants, either as the price for obtaining pretrial release or as punishment for crime after conviction. According to the Supreme Court, the 8th Amendment forbids some punishments entirely, prohibiting other punishment that are deemed excessive when compared to the crime or the competence of the perpetrator. In the example from the practice question, one could argue that the punishment by the court towards Nancy is unusual and cruel considering the circumstance of the charge.