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The 8 Amendment on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

THESIS: Overall, after the evaluation of the evidences it appears that cruel and unusual punishment may be defined as the punishment based on the torture concept or the one implementing outrageous methods and amount of punishing techniques which are so unequal to the committed crime that they shock common sense; in addition, punishment implementing inhumane practices and practices violating basic human dignity can be classified as cruel and unusual.

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The 8 Amendment of the Constitution of the United States forbids inflicting any unusual and cruel punishment. However, the question is, ‘what unusual and cruel punishment actually is?’ This is no wonder as since the day of adoption of this amendment a few centuries passed. Nowadays, two parties in this argument, the one supporting strict punishments motivating it by the necessity to exercise justice towards the criminals even if it requires cruel measures, and the other one arguing that humane ideas are to be implemented even to the criminals, continue their fervent debates around the 8 Amendment.

In the following paper, the issue of what can be classified as unusual and cruel punishment will be examined along with its connection to the statement in the 8 Amendment. In addition, the paper will address particular cases which may be evaluated as the violation of this Amendment. Overall, after the evaluation of the evidences it appears that cruel and unusual punishment may be defined as the punishment based on the torture concept or the one implementing outrageous methods and amount of punishing techniques which are so unequal to the committed crime that they shock common sense; in addition, punishment implementing inhumane practices and practices violating basic human dignity can be classified as cruel and unusual.

First of all, speaking about the issue of cruel and unusual punishment and its violation of the 8 Amendment, the very notions of “cruel punishment” and “unusual punishment” are to be addressed. Cruel and unusual punishment is rather an ambiguous matter as there exist numerous positions concerning this complicated question. The time the 8 Amendment was written, its creators implicated very different punishment concepts to those existing nowadays. For example, among such punishment were pulling into pieces by horses, burning alive, having hand cut down, or sitting at stocks.

Nowadays punishments in the United States are much more humane; as a result, the question is what can be listed among cruel and unusual punishments for now. The other important point in this issue is the very fact that criminals are punished because they deserve it as they caused severe damage to their fellow humans (Robertson 3). Judging from the point of view of the representatives of varied specialists in the area of legal practice, the notion of “cruel and unusual punishment” can be defined as the punishment based on the torture concept or the one implementing outrageous methods and amount of punishing techniques; in addition, punishment implementing inhumane practices and practices violating basic human dignity can be classified as cruel and unusual.

Next, with regards to constitutes of cruel and unusual punishment, it should be stated that they are the method and the amount. According to Spierenburg (293), if the punishment has inhumane method in its basic concept it can be automatically evaluated as unusual and cruel one. Taking into consideration modern methods of punishment, among the inhumane practices applied as a punishments in different parts of the world including the United States are overly cruel attitude to women in prisons including harassment and rape (this can be also related to men on a more random basis), bad health care in prisons, depriving people of their social rights sometimes even including their citizenship for the crimes which may not be considered to be that serious, a row of the most unexpected and unusual bans for the accused ones, and so on.

To illustrate this, the case of Adkins v. Rodriquez can be discussed (Robertson 4). The woman who appeared to be a victim of sexual harassment from the jail deputy was accused in her crime and imprisoned as a result; however, it did not mean that her imprisonment might include such cruel and challenging her dignity measures. Still the jail deputy thought different in this case. The woman managed to lodge her petition concerning this severe case to the court, and won the case on the basis of the 8 Amendment. In this experience, it became evident that punishment may not include any severe measures which contradict basic human vision of common values (Day 44).

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One more informative illustration to be discussed can be seen in the case West v. Atkins (Robbins 196). In this case the physician assigned to the prison by the government deliberately exercised his duties in a neglecting way motivating it by his reasoning that people are put to prisons not to be offered high level of service but to be punished for their crimes. As a result, the imprisoned lodged their complaints to the court concerning the acts of the physician, and managed to win this case on the basis of the 8 Amendment. Again, as it is seen from this experience the measure of the punishment along with its correspondence to the common sense standards is to be evaluated as its main constitute prescribed in the 8 Amendment.

Further, speaking about the 8 Amendment and cruel and unusual punishment, it appears that law framers being inspired by their intent to make the law “living” and able to adapt to the needs of the currently existing society put too much space for understanding the words which are formulated in this Amendment. As a result, there exist endless arguments concerning the actual implementation of this piece of law. Of course, the main one among those difficulties is in interpreting the very formulation of “cruel and unusual punishment”.

This brings one of the most complicated dilemmas into the country’s courts as judges have significant differences in understanding this legislative norm which creates numerous complicated precedents in the law practice within the country. As a result, a number of absurd cases of choosing preventive measures both too frivolous and too strict has occurred since the adoption of this amendment.

To illustrate this, a few cases will be discussed. In 1958, the Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 78 S. Ct. 590, 2 L. Ed. 2d 630 case stated that the accused one was to be punished by being denationalized. The defenders confronted such decision by the Supreme Court proving that it contradicts the 8 Amendment on the reason of total destructing a human status of the accused in the society, and thus robbing the person of a chance to exist in the society legally (Spierenburg 2010). Evaluating these arguments, the Supreme Court made a decision to satisfy the petition by the defenders changing the sentence as contradicting the standards of decency, being absurd and unnecessary overstated.

Finally, discussing punishments which may be considered to be a violation of the 8 amendment, the general statement is to be developed. Judging on a row of cases of punishing sentences, it appeared that their method was too strict especially if compared to the committed crime. This can be seen evaluating the illustration of the punishment by being burnt alive. In this case any committed crime is not able to exceed the chosen preventive measure. Similar conclusions can be made in case when punishment utterly contradicts to the standards of common sense being overly harsh for a particular crime.

For example, through the history of the country there appeared many cases when the accused in theft were punished by cutting of hands. In one case, a boy was punished by means of this preventive measure for stealing a few tomatoes from the orchard of his neighbors. Such preventive measure definitely contradicts common sense as it exceeds the level of committed crime to the highest extent. The other example is the law of felony-murder which assumes that the guilty one is to be imprisoned. However, when such person is imprisoned with those criminals who are morally degrading there exist a huge risk for such a person to be lost for the society including one’s children, soul mates and the other close relatives who need them as providers for the family and not only, as its normal member.

It is well-known that prisons shape particular standards and way of thinking in the imprisoned ones; in addition, they leave their unseen stamp on a person’s life depraving one of one’s chances and opportunities. Thus, such preventive measure as imprisonment for felony-murder may be evaluated as not relevant and not meeting its purpose. It can be well related to the very idea of the 8 Amendment. To illustrate this, the case of one family may be discussed. The father in the family was found guilty in a felony-murder which occurred at his working place as the one who was responsible for the safety standards on a certain enterprise.

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The man was taken away from his family including his two little children. As a result, the life of his children was badly affected as they lost their father as their example, stronghold and material support. In addition, the man was badly affected during his being in prison: he lost his health on the reason of poor treatment of the imprisoned, and also as a result of bad influence of his fellow-imprisoned ones he became a person of criminal way of thinking. In the end of the day, the man came out of a jail as a lost person for the society. Such case may be undoubtedly qualified as a violation of the 8 Amendment.

Concluding on all the information related above, it should be stated that the issue of unusual and cruel punishment can be evaluated as the very ambitious, and, thus, complicated one. There exist numerous opinions concerning the extent to which the preventing measures can be toughened. One party in this argument establishes one’s position proving that criminals deserve severe punishments whereas the other one argues that in any case humane ideas are to be implemented on any human beings despite their acts.

If to sum up the opinions of the majority of specialists on law, any punishment based on the torture concept or the one implementing outrageous methods and amount of punishing techniques which are so unequal to the committed crime that they shock common sense may be defined as cruel and unusual. Such punishment also implements inhumane practices and practices violating basic human dignity.

Works Cited

Day, Susie. “Cruel but Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons.” Monthly Review 2001: 42. Questia. Web.

Robbins, Ira P. “Managed Health Care in Prisons as Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 90.1 (1999): 195. Questia. Web.

Robertson, James E. “Cruel and Unusual Punishment in United States Prisons: Sexual Harassment among Male Inmates.” American Criminal Law Review 36.1 (1999): Questia. Web.

Spierenburg, Pieter. “Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America.” Journal of Social History 44.1 (2010): 290+. Questia. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 9). The 8 Amendment on Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-8-amendment-on-cruel-and-unusual-punishment/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 9). The 8 Amendment on Cruel and Unusual Punishment. https://studycorgi.com/the-8-amendment-on-cruel-and-unusual-punishment/

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"The 8 Amendment on Cruel and Unusual Punishment." StudyCorgi, 9 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/the-8-amendment-on-cruel-and-unusual-punishment/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The 8 Amendment on Cruel and Unusual Punishment'. 9 January.

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