Eighth Amendment Facts
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791. It is part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments.
Amendments 4-8 focus on the rights of people who are suspected of committing a crime or causing damage to others. The Eighth Amendment outlaws “cruel and unusual” punishment for crime.
It also protects people from having to pay unreasonably high fines or unreasonably high bail to be released from jail while awaiting trial.
What does the Eighth Amendment say?
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
What is excessive bail?
When someone is arrested for a crime, the judge might set a price the person can pay to be released from jail while they wait to go to trial. This price is called “bail.”
The price of bail is determined based on the crime the person committed. For some crimes, the person is considered too dangerous to be released from jail while waiting for trial. In these cases, bail is denied.
The more serious the crime is, the higher the price of bail. The price may also be higher (or bail may be denied) if someone is considered a “flight risk” who may run away or leave the country to avoid trial.
The Eighth Amendment guarantees that bail can’t be set at a ridiculously high price that the person can’t possibly pay. This would be the same as denying bail, which should only happen in extreme circumstances.
What are excessive fines?
Sometimes, the punishment for a crime is a fine that the person or organization must pay to the government. The Eighth Amendment says that these fines can’t be “excessive.”
This usually means that the fine should fit the crime. For example, a fine for littering might be $500, but it shouldn’t be $500,000.
What is cruel and unusual punishment?
If you’ve heard any part of the Eighth Amendment before, it’s probably the part about “cruel and unusual punishment.” This is the most quoted and most well-known phrase in the amendment.
It’s also the part that has caused the most debate and controversy over the years. The problem is that the amendment does not define “cruel and unusual punishment,” leaving it open to interpretation.
The Supreme Court has ruled that some types of punishment are forbidden by the Eighth Amendment, such as taking away someone’s U.S. citizenship, torturing, beheading, burning alive, and others.
Many people argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and want it to be outlawed. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is not forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment at School
Historically, schools in the United States used corporal punishment. This involved hitting students, usually with a wooden paddle, as punishment for misbehavior.
In 1976, the Supreme Court case Ingraham vs. White focused on James Ingraham, an eighth-grade boy who was paddled more than 20 times by his principal, Willie J. White. The case argued that this was cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court ruled that the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause does not apply to schools. It only applies to people accused of crimes.
Many states have banned corporal punishments in schools, but it is still practiced in some states. Some counties have their own separate rules about corporal punishment and can ban it in their county even if it is legal in their state.
Other Interesting Facts About the Eighth Amendment
- The Eighth Amendment is the shortest amendment based on the number of words.
- Back in 1791, Representative Livermore of the First Congress argued that the Eighth Amendment was too vague, especially the part about “clear and unusual punishment.” However, the amendment was ratified with no changes to the language.
- At first, this amendment only applied to the federal government. It was not enforced at the state level until 1962.
- Today, 30 U.S. states allow the death penalty as punishment for crimes. But 11 of those states haven’t used the death penalty in the last 10 years or, in some cases, much longer.
- In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to use the death penalty for people who were minors (under 18 years of age) at the time of their crimes.
- Before this ruling, the rule only applied to people who were younger than 16. In the 2005 ruling, the Supreme Court said that “evolving standards of decency” required a change.
- This ruling shows that what’s considered “cruel and unusual punishment” should change over time, according to what violates society’s standards of decency.