Cruel And Unusual Punishment
The EIGHTH AMENDMENT of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from inflicting "cruel and unusual punishments." The controversy over the constitutionality of the death penalty lies in the AMBIGUITY of the phrase "cruel and unusual." The first meeting of Congress addressed the phrase for only a few minutes. Congressman WILLIAM SMITH of South Carolina foreshadowed the controversy to come when he stated that the wording of the Eighth Amendment was "too indefinite."
Whereas some argue that the phrase "cruel and unusual" refers to the type of punishment inflicted (such punishments as the severing of limbs, for example, would almost certainly be considered cruel and unusual), others feel that the phrase refers to the degree and duration of the punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected both interpretations, leaving the death penalty a legal means of punishing certain criminals.
The FIFTH AMENDMENT seems to supply a clearer basis for assuming the constitutionality of the death penalty. This amendment states that no one shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." From this language, one can conclude that with DUE PROCESS OF LAW, capital punishment may be imposed.
In Furman, the justices who found the death penalty to be unconstitutional pointed to the language of the Eighth Amendment as the basis of their decision. Chief Justice WARREN E. BURGER, who filed a dissenting opinion, relied heavily upon the language of the Fifth Amendment to support his argument that the death penalty was constitutional.
Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Bryan Treaties (Bryan Arbitration Treaties) to James Earl Carter Jr. - Further ReadingsCapital Punishment - Cruel And Unusual Punishment, The Costs Of Capital Punishment, Evolving Standards Of Decency, Capital Punishment For Dwi-related Offenses