Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution protects against imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments. This amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the United States Bill of Rights.[1] The amendment serves as a limitation upon the federal government to impose unduly harsh penalties on criminal defendants before and after a conviction. This limitation applies equally to the price for obtaining pretrial release and the punishment for crime after conviction.[2] The phrases in this amendment originated in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

Pertinent part of the English Bill of Rights, December 1689
The Bill of Rights in the National Archives

The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments has led courts to hold that the Constitution totally prohibits certain kinds of punishment, such as drawing and quartering. Under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the Supreme Court has struck down the application of capital punishment in some instances, but capital punishment is still permitted in some cases where the defendant is convicted of murder.

The Supreme Court has held that the Excessive Fines Clause prohibits fines that are "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law". The Court struck down a fine as excessive for the first time in United States v. Bajakajian (1998). Under the Excessive Bail Clause, the Supreme Court has held that the federal government cannot set bail at "a figure higher than is reasonably calculated" to ensure the defendant's appearance at trial. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Excessive Fines Clause and the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause apply to the states, but has not done this regarding the Excessive Bail Clause.


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