The Eight Amendment

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The Eighth Amendment to the United States constitution was enacted on December 15, 1971. The amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and prohibits the Federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment. The Cruel and Unusual punishment clause is not limited to the Federal government but is also applicable to the states. The death penalty relates with the Eighth Amendment through the Cruel and Unusual punishment clause which is subject to different interpretations.

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Some punishments are banned entirely whereas some are disallowed depending on the magnitude of the crime. Punishments completely outlawed no matter what the offence is include public dissection, drawing, disembowelment and burning alive. In relation to the death penalty, there is precedence of the death penalty being declared cruel and unusual (Sarat & Vidmar, 1976). This is mainly due to the age of the perpetrator. For instance in the Thompson versus Oklahoma case of 1988, the supreme court ruled Death Penalty to be cruel if the defendant was under sixteen years of age when the crime was committed.

Truth be told, there has never been a clear cut distinction on whether the Death Penalty violates the Eighth Amendment or not. The Death Penalty in itself is not a universally agreed form of punishment in the United States with it being currently legal for the federal government, the military and thirty-two states. On the other hand, it is illegal in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. In the year 1972, the death penalty was temporarily banned in an attempt to settle the debate on whether the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment. This was on the case Furman versus Georgia which concluded that the manner in which states applied the death penalty was outlawed but the death penalty in itself was constitutional. The ban was imposed until the states fixed their laws in accordance to the four principles: Is it degrading to human dignity? Is it arbitrary? Is it rejected throughout society? And is it unnecessary? Four years after the ban, 35 states had made provisions for the death penalty in line with the four principles prompting the Supreme Court to re-enact the Death Penalty with Gregg v. Georgia.

The Death Penalty is arguably in violation of the Eighth Amendment. From the four principles, we could work on the question Is the Death Penalty degrading to human dignity? The answer to this question is a yes in the case of botched executions as well as wrongful convictions. Statistics indicate that three percent of all executions are likely to go wrong. Most recently, Oklahoma botched Clayton D. Locketts execution on April 29, 2014. The mode of execution applied was lethal injection and three minutes after administration of the drugs, Lockett was writhing in pain. The witnesses had to be evacuated and Lockett died of heart attack after 43 minutes of excruciating pain.

It is common for wrongful convictions to occur due to reasons such as incompetence by the defense counsel, lack of evidence or due to history of the defendant in relation to the alleged crime. When the death penalty has been ruled and administered, it is impossible to go back on the ruling in case new evidence is found. For instance, in Texas Carlos DE Luna was convicted in 1983 and executed in 1989. A few years later, new evidence shone light on DE Lunas innocence and instead pointed on Carlos Hernandez as the murderer. Hernandez also admitted to perpetrating the murder on multiple occasions (Steiker & Steiker, 2008).

The Death Penalty in comparison with long prison sentences has not substantially proved to be effective in discouraging people from committing crime. This proves that it is unnecessary and thus violates the Eighth Amendment. Life without parole prove to be a sensible alternative to the death sentence.

One may argue that the death sentence may at times be necessary depending on the crimes committed. For example for offender found guilty of first degree murder on multiple accounts we may be inclined to support the Death Penalty just so as to deter other people from repeating such cruel offences. Families affected by the defendants actions may feel cheated by the law if any punishment of lesser degree is passed (Alexander & Alexander 2011).

Matters pertaining to who should be allowed to live and who should not may be very difficult to make a universally binding decision. From the Eighth Amendment it could be proven that the Death Penalty violates human rights on many levels. If public opinion is to go by, then the Death Penalty is deemed to be rejected by a larger part of the society. Laying basis to the four principles, then the Death Penalty should be outlawed. The United States constitution also recognizes religion as its foundational principle yet in most religions, killing is forbidden. In conclusion, the Death Penalty is discriminative, more costly to the taxpayer, unnecessary and goes against public opinion of humanity. Based on the Cruel and Unusual punishments clause of the Eighth Amendments it is evident that the Death Penalty can be defined as being cruel. It is also common knowledge that there are other punishments that could be administered on the offenders and serve the purpose of putting them away from the public. Therefore, it is needless to say that the Death penalty infringes on the Eighth Amendment.


Sarat, A., & Vidmar, N. (1976). Public opinion, the death penalty, and the eighth amendment: Testing the Marshall hypothesis. Wis. L. Rev., 171.

Gardner, Martin R. "Executions and Indignities--An Eighth Amendment Assessment of Methods of Inflicting Capital Punishment." Ohio St. LJ 39 (1978): 96.

Steiker, C. S., & Steiker, J. M. (2008). Opening a Window or Building a Wall-The Effect of Eighth Amendment Death Penalty Law and Advocacy on Criminal Justice More Broadly. U. Pa. J. Const. L., 11, 155.

Alexander, K., & Alexander, M. D. (2011). American public school law. Cengage Learning.

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