8th Amendment Simplified
According to the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, fines should not be imposed in excess, nor excess bail be required. It also prohibits any punishment that is brutal and barbaric.
The amendment, which was ratified on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, protects criminal defendants from receiving cruel and unusual punishment from the federal government. This is for both being punished for a crime or as excessive bail for being released before a trial.
It’s crucial to understand a few aspects of what is regarded as cruel and unusual punishment and why it was so important that it was added to the US Constitution.
Why It Was Added to the Constitution
Going back into history, George Mason was responsible for including a ban on unusual and cruel punishments in the Commonwealth Declaration of Rights.
This was in 1776, and in 1791 the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment included the same concept. The bill was first introduced in England before being adopted in the Constitution.
Prior to the United States Constitution, there was no Bill of Rights, and cruel punishments were not prohibited.
It was only after the ratification of the Constitution that several debates were held regarding the use of cruel and unusual punishments and if they should be used or not. The majority supported the presence of the clause.
Fears over the use of corporal punishment
Under the Articles of Confederation, the government was very much constrained, but the changes that were proposed for the Constitution gave the federal government much more power.
One of the most significant powers included determining federal crimes and criminal punishment for offenders who commit crimes.
The Anti-Federalists feared the new Constitution would create opportunities for Congress to oppress people through brutal punishments. There was no restriction on the type of severe punishments they could think of utilizing.
They thought Congress would use cruel punishments to force confessions through torture, as in some European states.
The clause opposed the cruel punishment of criminals. Therefore, it is intended to prevent the federal government from reintroducing cruel punishments.
If the federal government tries doing anything related to cruelty in terms of punishment, it will breach the Eighth Amendment.
Opinions on the Eighth Amendment
There are disagreements on cruel and unusual punishment and how they’re carried out.
One of them is how the court decides whether the caliber of criminal punishment is cruel and unconstitutional and what standard should be set.
Another is whether only the barbaric modes of unusual punishment should be stopped or prohibit penalties that don’t balance with a person’s offense.
For example, consider someone violating some parking regulations and then getting sentenced to life.
The capital punishment debate
The third argument from proponents is whether or not the Eighth Amendment prohibits the death penalty. Many of them believe capital punishment should be categorized with the old barbaric punishments and should be removed.
Another concern is whether or not some current punishments, such as solitary confinement or the death penalty in the form of lethal injection, should be deemed a cruel punishment.
Those are some arguments weighed upon the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution.