Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By Isabelle Kaup

The 8th Amendment states that ¨Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.¨

Background Information / History

  • The Eighth Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights, which were introduced by James Madison
  • The Eighth Amendment also applies to the States.
  • Some punishments are completely forbidden under the Eighth Amendment, such as taking away a person’s citizenship, or painful and hard labor.
  • Because of this amendment, there are certain specific laws for the death penalty (for example, death by firing squad is not allowed).


  • Ratified in 1791
  • Made of three components

excessive bail shall not be required

excessive fines imposed

or cruel or unusual punishments inflicted

  • written by James Madison

Relevant Court Cases

  • Roper v. Simmons

Christopher Simmons was sentenced to death in 1993, when he was only 17. A series of appeals to state and federal courts lasted until 2002, but each appeal was rejected. Then, in 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court stayed Simmon's execution while the U.S. Supreme Court decided Atkins v. Virginia, a case that dealt with the execution of the mentally ill. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally ill violated the Eighth and 14th Amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment because a majority of Americans found it cruel and unusual, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to reconsider Simmons' case.

  • Hudson v. McMillian

Keith Hudson, a Louisiana inmate, claimed that he was beaten by Marvin Woods and Jack McMillian, two prison guards, while their supervisor, Arthur Mezo, watched. Hudson sued the guards in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, which allows individuals to bring suit for the "deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution." Hudson argued that they had violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The District Court ruled that the guards had used force when there was no need to do so, violating the Eighth Amendment, and that Hudson was therefore entitled to damages. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, however, finding that an inmate must demonstrate "significant injury" when he claims that his Eighth Amendment rights have been violated by the use of excessive force.

Relevant Current Events

The US Supreme Court has ruled to a conclusion that children who were automatically sentenced to life in prison should at least be given an opportunity to try for a more lenient sentence. This article was posted on January 25 of this year.
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Why this amendment is significant to me

This amendment is significant to me because I am highly interested in looking into the details of this amendment. Defining this amendment is crucial to the rights of a person and what amount and/or type of punishment they can receive.
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