Acts that deliberately degrade or inflict pain or injury on prisoners and punishments that are disproportionate to the crime are considered cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth Amendment.
What Is Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
Under the Eighth Amendment, anyone convicted of a crime is guaranteed due process. This includes prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment defined as punishment that’s deliberately degrading, a punishment that’s too severe for the crime committed, and acts of violence or torture.
In 1910, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged uncertainty about “what constitutes cruel and unusual punishments” under the law. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment related to the following conditions.
The Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause addresses a prisoner’s conditions of incarceration, stating that prison officials may not deprive inmates of “the basic necessities of life,” including shelter, food, clothing, sanitation, and necessary medical attention. The Supreme Court made the following rulings:
- Confinement – Deliberate indifference by a prison guard toward a prisoner’s illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because it violates a prisoner’s right to necessary medical care.
- Overcrowding – The Supreme Court ruled that prison overcrowding is unconstitutional because it endangers a prisoner’s basic living conditions, health, and safety.
- Beatings – The Supreme Court ruled that “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” such as malicious acts by prison guards used to punish prisoners are considered cruel and unusual punishments.
Proportionality of Sentence
The Supreme Court ruled that the sentence for a crime must not be disproportionate to the crime committed, regardless if it’s a felony or misdemeanor. Certain factors are considered to measure proportionality, such as the severity of the offense, the harshness of the penalty, sentences imposed on other offenders within the same jurisdiction, and sentences imposed on other offenders in different jurisdictions.
Under the Eighth Amendment, no particular term of years in prison is prohibited and the death penalty is not considered cruel and unusual punishment. If arrested in Minnesota, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapoliscan work to reduce a harsh sentence that involves time in prison.
The Supreme Court considers the age of an offender when determining the constitutionality of imprisonment. There are special considerations for sentencing juvenile offenders. The court ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose a life prison sentence on juvenile non-homicide offenders and juvenile homicide offenders without the possibility of parole.