The Eighth AmendmentThe 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the UnitedStates prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, as wellas the setting of excessive bail or the imposition ofexcessive fines. However, it has also been deemedunconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the UnitedStates (according to the Eighth Amendment)to inflictphysical damage on students in a school environment forthe purpose of discipline in most circumstances.The 8th Amendment stipulates that bail shall not beexcessive. This is unclear as to whether or not thereis a constitutional right to bail, or only prohibitsexcessive bail, if it is to be granted.

The SupremeCourt has never directly addressed this interpretationproblem, because federal law has always guaranteed thatprivilege in all non-capital cases (Comptons).Bail furthers the presumption of innocence untilguilt is absolutely proven, beyond the shadow of adoubt. If it werent for bail, the accused suspectwould virtually be serving a sentence for a crime he orshe has not been convicted of committing. Excessivebail has the same effect.

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The idea behind bail is tomake sure the accused is present during the trial. Ifones bail is , in fact, excessive, the amount is sethigher than is reasonable. Logically, bail is usuallynot set for an amount greater than the maximum monetarysentence for the crime with which the defendant is beingcharged.

(Draper 80)The most widely known aspect of the eighthamendment is the fact that it prohibits cruel andunusual punishment. The stand for cruel and unusualfluctuates, because it all is dependent upon socialissues, standards, and personal beliefs. However, thereare many generalizations that remain very clear, nomatter what the situation. Cruel and unusual punishmentis perceived as punishment that causes an unnecessaryand wanton infliction of pain.

Punishments that havebeen declared entirely unconstitutional without questionby the US Supreme Court include torture and loss ofcitizenship. (Garraty 155) This interpretation isdemonstrated by the Supreme Courts rulings in the caseof Gregg vs. Georgia, in 1976. In this case the courtupheld the constitutionality of the death penalty,defending statutes that guide judges and juries in thedecision to issue the death sentence.

The Court did,however, state that the mandatory use of the deathpenalty would be prohibited under the Eighth Amendmentas cruel and unusual punishment. The defendant in thiscase, Gregg, had been convicted on two counts of armedrobbery and two counts of murder. The jury wasinstructed by the trial judge, who was following Georgiastate law, to return with either a decision of lifeimprisonment or the death penalty. Justice Byron statedin his opinion that Gregg had failed in his burden ofshowing that the Georgia Supreme Court had not done allit could to prevent discriminatory practices in theforming of his sentence. This decision became the firsttime the Court stated that “punishment of death does notinvariably violate the Constitution.

” (Bernstein 21)The punishment also cannot be grossly out ofproportion to the severity of the crime charged, nor canit violate the convicted individuals dignity. InRummell vs. Estelle, it was upheld that it did notconstitute “cruel and unusual punishment” to impose alife sentence, under a recidivist statute, upon adefendant who had been convicted, successively, offraudulent use of a credit card to obtain $80 worth ofgoods or services, passing a forged check in the amountof $28.36, and obtaining $120.

75 by false pretenses. Wesaid that “one could argue without fear of contradictionby any decision of this Court that for crimes concededlyclassified as felonies, that is, as punishable bysignificant terms of imprisonment in a statepenitentiary, the length of the sentence actuallyimposed is purely a matter of legislative prerogative. We specifically rejected the proposition asserted by thedissent, that unconstitutional disproportionality couldbe established by weighing three factors. (Sundquist230) The first factor to be considered is the gravity ofthe offense compared to severity of the penalty. Thesecond is penalties imposed within the same jurisdictionfor similar crimes. The third item to be considered ispenalties imposed in other jurisdictions for the sameoffense. (231)As far as capital punishment is concerned, theEighth Amendment has been used to declare the deathpenalty invalid in numerous cases.

Mandatory deathpenalties have repeatedly been found to violate theEighth Amendment, and were first found to beunconstitutional in the cases of Roberts vs. Louisianaand Woodson vs. North Carolina. Arbitrary deathsentences with no established criteria for applicationalso violate the Eighth Amendment, as was ruled in thecase of Furman vs.

Georgia. In Furman vs. Georgia threecases had been brought to the Supreme Court concerningthe death penalty and the racial biases present in theselection process. Three juries had convicted andimposed the death penalty on their accused without anyguidelines to go by in their decision.

This case (Furmanvs. Georgia) represents the first time the Supreme Courtruled against the death penalty. The dissenting Justicesargued that the courts had no right to challengelegislative judgment on the effectiveness and justice ofpunishments.

The majority however held that the deathpenalty was cruel and unusual punishment, which violatedthe Eighth Amendment. Justice Thurgood Marshall went onto attack the penalty more directly stating, “it isexcessive, unnecessary, and offensive to contemporaryvalues.” (Garraty 157).One of the least well known or discussedprotections the Eighth Amendment provides is itsforbiddance of corporal punishment in schools. Thismeans that, unless a teacher or school employee feelsthat his own person, another person, or the property ofthe school is in danger, he cannot use physical force aspunishment while in a school environment.

Thisobviously is not directly stated in the EighthAmendment, but it has been interpreted by the SupremeCourt that corporal punishment in schools isunconstitutional. (Draper 82) However, as always, the Supreme Court has thefinal word in each specific case. It is their job tolook at contemporary standards concerning punishments,as well as social issues, history, and jurydeterminations when deciding upon the constitutionalityof all questionable penalties (83).

The Eighth Amendment (as it has been interpretedby the US Supreme Court) protects Americans from crueland unusual punishment, excessive bails and fines, andunnecessary physical chastisement in schools. However,whether a sentence is cruel and unusual or a fine isexcessive continually remains to be determined by theSupreme Court.Works CitedBernstein, Richard, and Jerome Agel. Amending America. New York: Random House, Inc, 1993.Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia.

New York: ComptonsNewMedia, Inc., 1995.Draper, Thomas. Human Rights. New York: The H. W.Wilson Company, 1982.

Garraty, John A. Quarrels That Have Shaped theConstitution. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.Sundquist, James L. Constitutional Reform and EffectiveGovernment. Washington, DC: The BrookingsInstitution, 1986.


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