8th Amendment – What does it mean?

The First 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.  There is often discussion and debate about what these amendments mean. Without bringing a political view and without giving legal advice, below is the text of the 8th Amendment and some commentary on it.

Amendment VIII:Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The cruel and unusual punishment is often debated and thrown around when capital punishment, or the death penalty, is being talked about. The U.S. Congress has an annotated Constitution that helps define some of this Amendment and address the landmark cases that impacted this small but powerful Amendment. It can be easily debated about what excessive bail or an excessive fine is given the situation and the resources the person accused has available to them. TV shows make a big deal about asking for the court to hold a person’s passport or increase bail because they are a flight risk. For many people it is easy to understand what might be excessive bail or fines. However, the debate about what is cruel and unusual punishment has been occurring since before the Bill of Rights went into effect.

The 8th Amendment is often referred to when a prisoner feels the conditions in a jail or prison are cruel and unusual. Confinement and conditions may result in minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities, but cannot be cruel (Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 US 126 (2003)).

The Death Penalty, or capital punishment, is hotly debated and can be another blog post of its own. When people argue against the death penalty, the 8th Amendment is the amendment most often referred to as a reason to abolish, or do away with, the death penalty.


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