8th Amendment

The Eighth Amendment
The 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, as well
as the setting of excessive bail or the imposition of
excessive fines. However, it has also been deemed
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United
States (according to the Eighth Amendment)to inflict
physical damage on students in a school environment for
the purpose of discipline in most circumstances.


The 8th Amendment stipulates that bail shall not be
excessive. This is unclear as to whether or not there
is a constitutional right to bail, or only prohibits
excessive bail, if it is to be granted. The Supreme
Court has never directly addressed this interpretation
problem, because federal law has always guaranteed that
privilege in all non-capital cases (Compton’s).

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Bail furthers the presumption of innocence until
guilt is absolutely proven, beyond the shadow of a
doubt. If it weren’t for bail, the accused suspect
would virtually be serving a sentence for a crime he or
she has not been convicted of committing. Excessive
bail has the same effect. The idea behind bail is to
make sure the accused is present during the trial. If
one’s bail is , in fact, excessive, the amount is set
higher than is reasonable. Logically, bail is usually
not set for an amount greater than the maximum monetary
sentence for the crime with which the defendant is being
charged.(Draper 80)
The most widely known aspect of the eighth
amendment is the fact that it prohibits cruel and
unusual punishment. The stand for “cruel and unusual”
fluctuates, because it all is dependent upon social
issues, standards, and personal beliefs. However, there
are many generalizations that remain very clear, no
matter what the situation. Cruel and unusual punishment
is perceived as punishment that causes “an unnecessary
and wanton infliction of pain”. Punishments that have
been declared entirely unconstitutional without question
by the US Supreme Court include torture and loss of
citizenship. (Garraty 155) This interpretation is
demonstrated by the Supreme Court’s rulings in the case
of Gregg vs. Georgia, in 1976. In this case the court
upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty,
defending statutes that guide judges and juries in the
decision to issue the death sentence. The Court did,
however, state that the mandatory use of the death
penalty would be prohibited under the Eighth Amendment
as cruel and unusual punishment. The defendant in this
case, Gregg, had been convicted on two counts of armed
robbery and two counts of murder. The jury was
instructed by the trial judge, who was following Georgia
state law, to return with either a decision of life
imprisonment or the death penalty. Justice Byron stated
in his opinion that Gregg had failed in his burden of
showing that the Georgia Supreme Court had not done all
it could to prevent discriminatory practices in the
forming of his sentence. This decision became the first
time the Court stated that “punishment of death does not
invariably violate the Constitution.” (Bernstein 21)
The punishment also cannot be “grossly out of
proportion to the severity of the crime charged, nor can
it violate the convicted individual’s dignity. In
Rummell vs. Estelle, it was upheld that it did not
constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” to impose a
life sentence, under a recidivist statute, upon a
defendant who had been convicted, successively, of
fraudulent use of a credit card to obtain $80 worth of
goods or services, passing a forged check in the amount
of $28.36, and obtaining $120.75 by false pretenses. We
said that “one could argue without fear of contradiction
by any decision of this Court that for crimes concededly
classified as felonies, that is, as punishable by
significant terms of imprisonment in a state
penitentiary, the length of the sentence actually
imposed is purely a matter of legislative prerogative.”
We specifically rejected the proposition asserted by the
dissent, that unconstitutional disproportionality could
be established by weighing three factors. (Sundquist
230) The first factor to be considered is the gravity of
the offense compared to severity of the penalty. The
second is penalties imposed within the same jurisdiction
for similar crimes. The third item to be considered is
penalties imposed in other jurisdictions for the same
offense. (231)
As far as capital punishment is concerned, the
Eighth Amendment has been used to declare the death
penalty invalid in numerous cases. Mandatory death
penalties have repeatedly been found to violate the
Eighth Amendment, and were first found to be
unconstitutional in the cases of Roberts vs. Louisiana
and Woodson vs. North Carolina. Arbitrary death
sentences with no established criteria for application
also violate the Eighth Amendment, as was ruled in the
case of Furman vs. Georgia. In Furman vs. Georgia three
cases had been brought to the Supreme Court concerning
the death penalty and the racial biases present in the
selection process. Three juries had convicted and
imposed the death penalty on their accused without any
guidelines to go by in their decision. This case (Furman
vs. Georgia) represents the first time the Supreme Court
ruled against the death penalty. The dissenting Justices
argued that the courts had no right to challenge
legislative judgment on the effectiveness and justice of
punishments. The majority however held that the death
penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, which violated
the Eighth Amendment. Justice Thurgood Marshall went on
to attack the penalty more directly stating, “it is
excessive, unnecessary, and offensive to contemporary
values.” (Garraty 157).


One of the least well known or discussed
protections the Eighth Amendment provides is its
forbiddance of corporal punishment in schools. This
means that, unless a teacher or school employee feels
that his own person, another person, or the property of
the school is in danger, he cannot use physical force as
punishment while in a school environment. This
obviously is not directly stated in the Eighth
Amendment, but it has been interpreted by the Supreme
Court that corporal punishment in schools is
unconstitutional. (Draper 82)
However, as always, the Supreme Court has the
final word in each specific case. It is their job to
look at “contemporary standards” concerning punishments,
as well as social issues, history, and jury
determinations when deciding upon the constitutionality
of all questionable penalties (83).


The Eighth Amendment (as it has been interpreted
by the US Supreme Court) protects Americans from cruel
and unusual punishment, excessive bails and fines, and
unnecessary physical chastisement in schools. However,
whether a sentence is cruel and unusual or a fine is
excessive continually remains to be determined by the
Supreme Court.


Works Cited
Bernstein, Richard, and Jerome Agel. Amending America.
New York: Random House, Inc, 1993.


Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. New York: Compton’s
NewMedia, Inc., 1995.


Draper, Thomas. Human Rights. New York: The H. W.


Wilson Company, 1982.


Garraty, John A. Quarrels That Have Shaped the
Constitution. New York: Harper ; Row, 1987.


Sundquist, James L. Constitutional Reform and Effective
Government. Washington, DC: The Brookings
Institution, 1986.

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