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Cruel and Unusual Punishment - Infliction (prison Or Correction Law)

amendment eighth punishments hanging

Even if neither the legislative threat of a particular punishment nor its imposition on a particular defendant violates the Eighth Amendment, its actual infliction may. After all, the amendment specifically prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments, in contrast to the imposition of excessive bail or fines. Legislatures enjoy considerable latitude in determining the mode of punishment. Although burning at the stake and quartering would presumably run afoul of the Eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court has been unwilling to constrain legislatures' choice among other modes of execution, including electrocution, hanging, gassing, and lethal injection.

Still, the cruel and unusual punishments clause reaches the actual infliction of punishment, even if it does not deviate from the general mode specified by the legislature (say, by electrocuting a condemned man rather than hanging him). Paradoxically, the infliction of noncapital punishment has received much greater Eighth Amendment scrutiny than has the infliction of capital punishment. So the Supreme Court has consistently rejected claims based on botched execution attempts, while at the same time developing a complex jurisprudence of prison conditions, which critics have characterized as a National Code of Prison Regulations (Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992) ( Justice Thomas dissenting)).

In the law of prisons, different tests govern the infliction of legislatively defined and judicially imposed punishments, on the one hand, and the disciplining of inmates for prison misconduct, on the other. The former amounts to cruel and unusual punishment if it reflects "deliberate indifference" on the part of prison officials. The latter violates the Eighth Amendment, for example, only if it reflects "malice and sadism" (Hudson).

Cruel and Unusual Punishment - Bibliography [next] [back] Cruel and Unusual Punishment - Imposition (procedural Criminal Law)

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