Just like defining “Law,” cruel punishment has no universally expected definition. The existing legal systems define cruel punishment in terms that best suit the applicability of their legal system as well as considering the expected morals in a particular society. The complexity surrounding definition of cruel and unusual punishment has been made possible by the elasticity of society and therefore flexibility of morals. What is moral in one society is definitely not moral in another society. However, due to the need of conformity and standardization that has been occasioned by globalization, most societies do share the same legal system and as a result they share a common definition as far as cruel and unusual punishment is concerned. This way, it becomes easier for a legal system to define cruel punishment in a way that best suits the applicability of their various laws without arising inconsistencies and repugnancies to justice as well as law and morality of a society.
Therefore as discussed above, a legal system has to define cruel punishment according to the moral standards of its society. It has to take into consideration the attitude of the people living in the society into consideration when positing such definition. Additionally, they have to consider the applicability of the definition and its anticipated results. For any law to be effective it has got to be backed by sanctions, therefore a legal system has got to find ways of delivering punishment that is proportionate to the gravity of the crime committed. That way it will succeed in impeding other offenders from such acts and therefore making the society safer. This paper is going to look into the Common Law definition of cruel and unusual punishment. It will also look into the legal precedents that have been set by court cases in the USA in an attempt to define cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically it is going to discuss cruel and unusual punishment from the point of view of the death penalty, conviction of minors, conviction of mental persons and appropriation of penalties.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Definition
According to the Common Law, cruel and unusual punishment is such penalties that amount to barbarity or torture. It has been defined as cruel and degrading punishment not known by the Common Law. It includes any penalty, treatment, penalty or a fine that is disproportionate to the magnitude of the offense committed that it shocks a community’s moral sense.
The US Constitution, in the 8th Amendment bars the federal government from instilling (for federal crimes) punishment that is cruel and unusual. The 8th Amendment states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” In the 14th Amendment, the various states are prohibited from infliction of unusual and cruel punishment for state crimes; additionally most of the States constitutions do bar the infliction of unusual and cruel punishment.
Federal and State courts have had their part in attempting to define and set standards for cruel and unusual punishment. The courts have stated that the amount and the method are to be considered when handing punishments. Concerning the method, it is very clear in the 8th Amendment that cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited. In Hudson v. McMillian, the Supreme Court opined that excessive use of force against a prisoner may be considered unusual and cruel punishment (even if serious injuries are not suffered by the prisoner). In Hope v. Pelzer, it was decided that when prison officials punish an inmate due to upcoming behavior by handcuffing the to a “hitching post” for a period of two hours and seven hours respectively, exposing them to the sun in the procedure and denying the prisoner his shirt and refusing to hydrate the inmate and also refusing him to use sanitary facilities amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
The courts as shared...
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