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All You Need To Know About Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

The Cruel and Unusual Punishment History

Cruel and unusual punishment refers to the punishment inflicted upon a person to create as much suffering and humiliation on that person as possible. All capital punishments throughout most of the world's recorded history have been purposely designed to be extremely painful.

Examples of such painful acts of capital punishment include boiling to death, flaying, disembowelment, crucifixion, crushing, sawing, impalement, and necklacing which were practiced in many different countries throughout the world, such as France, England, Germany and the countries of Asia. Such punishments were not only cruel and painful because of the method in which they were carried out, but also because of the occasionally slow process in which they were carried out leading to further suffering. Impalement and crucifixion often required the condemned person to suffer for many days before finally dying.

Notable Cases Pertaining to Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Today, many of the countries which have performed such acts of punishment on condemned persons have ceased to do so and have been deemed unacceptable. The English Bill of Rights described such acts as unacceptable and the same idea was finally adopted when the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was written. The Supreme Court has examined this portion of the Amendment in several cases, including Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber and Robinson v. California. The former case determined that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applied to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Francis v. Resweber

This case asked the question of whether or not capital punishment through the electric chair a second time can be done after the first attempt failed. Francis and his legal team maintained that a second attempt would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Robinson v. California

The Supreme Court case of Robinson v. California decided that punishing a person based solely on a medical condition, such as a controlled substance addiction, is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The case also helped enforce that having an addiction to narcotics is indeed an illness and not a crime; a crime being something committed in an 'act'.

The background revolved around Robinson, who was stopped by a police officer, who noticed track marks on Robinson's arms. He was eventually arrested for a misdemeanor for being addicted to a controlled substance. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Furman v. Georgia

In the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia, it was determined that enforcing capital punishment in arbitrary and inconsistent patterns is a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and is a violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. The case involved Furman, who was burgling a victim's house. When he attempted to flee, he claimed his gun went off and killed the victim, contradicting his prior statements to police, in which he stated that he turned around and fired a blind shot. In either case, he was committing a felony and was involved in the death of the victim during that felony, constituting the death penalty in the State of Georgia. Although he was sentenced to death, he was never executed.

The Supreme Court decided in a 5 to 4 decision that enforcing the death penalty in Furman's situation was unconstitutional and was considered to be cruel and unusual punishment. Consequently, 37 states enacted new laws governing the death penalty and procedures leading up to it to avoid arbitrary impositions of capital punishment.

From this case, four principles were developed by Justice Brennan in examining the possibility of capital punishment and what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment:

1) The punishment cannot be degrading to human dignity in the case of torture.

2) A severe punishment inflicted in a completely arbitrary manner.

3) A punishment that is largely rejected throughout society.

4) A severe punishment which is "patently unnecessary."

Prohibited Capital Punishments, Regardless of the Crime Committed

In the case of Wilkerson v. Utah, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that death by firing squad in Utah was indeed Constitutional and did not present a method of capital punishment in the territory of cruel and unusual punishment. The Justices further commented that such punishments as drawing and quartering, public dissecting, burning alive, and disemboweling would be cruel and unusual forms of punishment, regardless of the crime committed by the convicted person(s). In addition, executing either the mentally handicapped or persons under the age of eighteen are also violations under criminal laws.

Prohibited Capital Punishments for Specific Crimes

The case of Weems v. United States in the Supreme Court helped to overturn a specific type of punishment which was called cadena temporal, meaning hard and painful labor. The Supreme Court case of Trop v. Dulles showed that stripping a person of naturalized citizenship was indeed a cruel and unusual punishment because it involved "destroying an individual's status in organized society." In addition, the case of Solem v. Helm came to the conclusion that holding a person in jail for an extended period of time disproportionate to the crime committed is a form of cruel and unusual punishment under criminal laws.

Death Penalty and Rape

The Supreme Court case of Coker v. Georgia showed that enforcing the death penalty on a person convicted of the rape of a woman is an excessive punishment under criminal laws. Furthermore, Kennedy v. Louisiana determined that the rape of a child will not constitute capital punishment, as long as there was no life taken in the process. In this case, however, the Supreme Court failed to recognize a Federal law which states that capital punishment for child rape in military court-martial proceedings may apply. The Supreme Court has refused to reconsider the case based upon this law.

NEXT: All You Need to Know About The Right to Trial By Jury

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