Prohibition Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment

A well-known component of the Eighth Amendment is the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Although this phrase originally was intended to outlaw certain gruesome methods of punishment—such as torture, burning at the stake, or crucifixion—it has been broadened over the years to protect against punishments that are grossly disproportionate to (meaning much too harsh for) the particular crime. <br><br>Except for a brief period in the 1970s, the death penalty has not been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court to be cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, Eighth Amendment challenges to the death penalty have focused on the methods used to carry out executions, whether certain offenders (for example, juveniles or the mentally retarded) should be subject to the sentence and whether death sentences are decided in a fair manner and by an impartial jury. <br><br>It is not just criminal sentences themselves that are subject to the cruel and unusual test: the Eighth Amendment&#8217;s cruel and unusual provision has been used to challenge prison conditions such as extremely unsanitary cells, overcrowding, insufficient medical care and deliberate failure by officials to protect inmates from one another.

www.justicelearning.org, The United States Constitution, what it says, what it means, A Hip Pocket Guide (Oxford University Press)