The Eighth Amendment provides three essential protections for those accused of a crime, on top of those found in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments: It prohibits excessive bail and fines, as well as cruel and unusual punishments.
We can trace protection against cruel and unusual punishments much further back than the Eighth Amendment or even the United States Constitution. In 1689, the British government adopted a Bill of Rights that included such protection. In 1776, Charles Mason included it in the Declaration of Rights created for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
And in 1791, it was added to the United States Constitution. Supporters of the Eighth Amendment feared that without it, the federal government would abuse its power to create federal crimes and punishments.
What the Eighth Amendment Says
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most important part of the Eighth Amendment?
The most important and arguably the most controversial portion of the Eighth Amendment is the protection against cruel and unusual punishment. But it can also be the most confusing. What do we mean by "cruel?" What makes a punishment "unusual?" Answering these questions has been the job of the Supreme Court.
Can you sue for cruel and unusual punishment?
Yes. Someone whose Eighth Amendment or other civil rights have been violated can sue the government to have their conviction overturned or seek other damages. It's important to speak to an attorney in these situations to better understand your options.