The Eighth Amendment
The eighth amendment is defined as “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. This amendment was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. The eighth amendment serves the purpose of protecting of those who are innocent until proven guilty and to ensure that all persons are treated fairly in the criminal justice system. Defendants who are not released on bail are being denied the opportunity to prepare their defense. Also, denying bail or having excessive bail imprisons the defendant without being properly convicted. There are cases, however, where bail must be denied or set excessively high. If an unconvicted defendant is feared to be a danger to the community or a flight risk, the constitution permits the denial of bail. The “no excessive fines clause of the eighth amendment presides fines directly imposed by, and payable to the government and in civil forfeiture cases”. The term “excessive” still has not been defined by the United States court system.
Asset forfeiture, however, has become a key element in the war on drugs as the government has the power to seize the property of persons that have not yet been convicted of a crime. The law “there shall not be cruel and unusual punishment” under the eighth amendment means that society will deem what is cruel and unusual. The standards of society transform over time as citizens “do better when they know better”. Medevil practices such as cutting off the hand of a thief are obviously unacceptable forms of punishment in today’s modern society. While the death penalty is used in some states for those who commit the most heinous of crimes, not all states impose such a severe sentence. The first known execution within the United States occurred in the year 1607 in Jamestown. Captain George Kendall was shot to death by a firing squad for allegedly spying against the British. Since then, there has been a struggle among society and lawmakers attempting to decide if the death penalty falls under unusual and cruel punishment. In the late 1960s, “all but 10 states had laws authorizing capital punishment”.
During Furman v. Georgia in 1972, the U. S. Supreme Court decided against capital punishment on federal and state levels. The majority ruled in a five to four vote that the death penalty violated the rights of the eighth amendment. Over 600 inmates sitting on death row had their sentences overturned between the years 1967 and 1972. This suspension of the death penalty continued until 1976. During the Gregg v. Georgia case in 1976, the court decided to uphold a procedure in which the trial of “capital crimes was bifurcated into guilt-innocence and sentencing phases”. These proceedings entailed a jury to first decide if a defendant is guilty. Based upon that decision, then a jury decides whether any aggravating and mitigating factors in assessing the ultimate penalty: life in prison or capital punishment. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court decided that the execution of criminals who are mentally ill to be cruel and unusual punishment. Also, in 2005, it was decided that the execution of criminals under the age of 18 be cruel and unusual as well.
As of the year 2008,” the death penalty is authorized by 37 states, the federal government and the U. S. Military”. Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island do not support capital punishment. If the past has any influence on the future, the laws governing the death penalty will probably change time and time again. Society must do the best they can with the knowledge they acquire. Who is to say that the death penalty will be abolished forever or that possibly the death penalty might become usual punishment for crimes less than heinous? The future, in regards to the death penalty, may hold some surprises for us. Only the future will reveal what is to come.
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Excessive Fines. Retrieved on January 30, 2009, from http://law.onecle.com/constitution/amendment-08/02-excessive-fines.html Wikipedia (2010).
The eighth amendment. Retrieved on January 30, 2010, from http://www.wikipedia.org