Cruel and Unusual Punishment

1 January 2017

Cruel and unusual punishment is the term used to describe criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it causes on the person. Cruel and unusual punishment has a very long history and is now noted in the constitution. There are several cases that deal with the consequences of cruel and unusual punishment and the constitution also protects people from this being used on them.

The government has also put restrictions on the punishment judges can give to people for committing crimes due to the history of cruel and unusual punishment. 2) Cruel and unusual punishment had been used since the beginning of time. A lot of the punishments included devices such as the breaking wheel or the rack. Punishments also included things such as boiling to death, flaying, crushing, stoning, beheading, necklacing, and execution of fire. These are just to name a few. The breaking wheel was a device used during the Middle Ages cudgeling or beating a person to death.

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The limbs of the accused would be tied to a giant wooden wheel that would then revolve and the accused would be hit mostly with an iron hammer.

Once the accused’s bones were broken they would be left there toFigure [ 1 ] the Breaking wheel (4) die. The Rack was also a device used in the middle ages, but this machine dislocated every limb in a person’s body. The limbs were tied to a rope and then the torture would crack a handle to slowly pull the bones out of socket. Often the torture would go too far and actually pull the limbs off of the body. Flaying was a procedure that pretty much skinned the person alive. Crushing was a process used to get a plea or confession out of a person by placing heavier and heavier rocks on the person’s chest.

This person would either confess or the weight of the rock would get so heavy on their chest they could no longer breathe and they would suffocate. Necklacing is a punishment that is no longer used in the United States but it still being used my other countries, mostly Africa, up until the late 1990’s. They force a rubber tire around the chest and arms of the convicted fill it with gasoline and light it on fire. It usually takes the victim about twenty minutes to die from the burns. (4) In more recent years cruel and unusual punishment would be more along the ines of a judging sentencing a defendant to life in prison for theft.

The government has said that the punishment must fit the crime to stop the use of cruel and unusual punishment. If someone feels that crime they have been given is not fair for the crime they committed they may make a case with the United States Supreme court to see if their sentence maybe overturned. Before 1791 this was not something that was allowed. You were to receive that sentence you had been given and there was nothing you could do about it.

The eighth amendment of the United States Constitution states “Excessive bail shall not be required, not excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment be imposed”. (2) This amendment was added to the constitution in 1791. This amendment was first used in the state of Virginia by George Mason and Patrick Henry. Those men decided that it should also become part of the United States Constitution so that congress did not use cruel and unusual punishment. James Madison then proposed the amendment in 1789.

There have been many cases in the United States in recent years that have been thought to be using cruel and unusual punishment. Some of the cases in The United States have involved a life sentence for shoplifting in California to the possibility of a life sentence for a 12 year old boy in the state of Pennsylvania. Here are few more cases that have gotten a lot of media attention for the cruelty of their punishments. At the age of 13 Joe Sullivan was convicted of raping a 72 year old woman. Sullivan did admit to burglarizing her mom with two other boys but says he did not go back to commit the rape.

When the plaintiff took the stand she stated that she could not identify the boy other then he was “a colored boy” who “had kinky hair and he was quite black and he was small. ”(3) She had also stated the boy said to her “If you can’t identify me, then I won’t have to kill you”. (3) Sullivan was asked to repeat this statement several times in court and the plaintiff said that she was not sure if that was the voice but it did sound familiar. Sullivan was found guilty and sentenced in life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Joe Sullivan is currently 33 years old and his lawyers are asking the “United States Supreme Court to consider the question of whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment extends to sentencing someone who was barely a teenager to die in prison for a crime that did not involve a killing. ”(3) In 2007 21 year old Genarlow Wilson was released from prison after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled his sentence to be cruel and unusual punishment. Wilson was convicted at the age of 17 for performing sex acts on a 15 year old consenting girl.

Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole. “Partly as a result of Wilson’s conviction, state legislators changed the law to make such consensual conduct between minors a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. ”(6) Due to the changed in the laws Wilson’s crime was only punishable by one year in a prison and no registration as a sex offender. “The majority countered that it was not applying the 2006 amendment retroactively, but instead factoring that [into its determination that Wilson’s punishment is cruel and unusual,] the court said in a news release.

The state of Ohio has been accused of cruel and unusual punishment while trying to execute men on death row. One of the most recent stories was in 2007. Romell Broom’s execution was stopped by officials because they were unable to find any useable veins for the execution procedure. At that time steps were being taken to stop Broom’s execution altogether because it would violate his 8th amendment rights. This was not the first time Ohio has been accused of this, in 2006 they had trouble executing Joseph Clark and then in 2007 they had trouble executing Christopher Newton.

The Ohio chapter of the Americans Civil Liberties wanted the state to stop all executions because they felt it was cruel and unusual punishment. However Governor Strickland said that “he will review the circumstances around Broom’s failed execution but that he does not think a wholesale review of the death penalty in Ohio is in order. ” In 2005 the United States Supreme court ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to death. This was brought about because of a case out of Missouri State. This case involved a 17 year old who had been sentenced to the death penalty.

In 1993 Simmons planned to murder Shirley Crook. Simmons and two of his friends met in the middle of the night but one of them dropped out of the plan. Simmons and Benjamin broke into Mrs. Crook’s home, tied her hands and covered her eyes. They drove her to a state park and threw her off a bridge. When the case went to trial Simmons had admitted to the murder and was found guilty by the jury and was sentenced to the death penalty. Simmons appealed his sentence several times stating that they should have taken his age into consideration.

He was not able to get an appeal until 2002 when the state of Virginia had ruled it unconstitutional to give the mentally challenged the death penalty. Simmons filed a new petition and the Supreme Court of Missouri concluded that “a national consensus has developed against the execution of the mentally retarded” (5) and held that such punishment now violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Simmons then received life in prison without the possibility of parole. (5) In February of 2008 a Nevada woman, Michelle Taylor, was charged with forcing a 13 yr old by to touch her breasts.

April 14th of 2010 Taylor was sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole after ten years. The judge stated that this was the mandatory sentence for this particular statute and he didn’t know why the prosecution had decided to use this statute. Taylor’s public defender stated that “She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him,”(1) The jury was not allowed to know the sentencing while they were deciding her fate and she was not offered a plea bargain by the prosecution. Taylor’s public defender believes this to be unconstitutional and does not fit the crime.

In the state of Georgia the sentence for a sex offender that failed to register for a second time is a mandatory life sentence. Cedric Bradshaw received this sentence after having trouble finding a place to live and therefore could not register on time. “In a 6-1 decision, the court said the life sentence imposed upon 26-year-old Cedric Bradshaw of Statesboro violates the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. “We conclude the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment is so harsh in comparison to the crime for which it was imposed that it is unconstitutional.

The court ordered Bradshaw to be re-sentenced. His lawyer, Robert Persse, was happy with the ruling. “The state’s penalty provision was excessive and clearly disproportionate to the offense in question”. (1) The court pointed out that someone convicted of voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault with the intent to murder, rob or rape can receive a sentence as little as one year. The 8th amendment of the constitution protects Americans for being subject to punishments that do not fit the crime they have admitted.

The amendment first protects you from “excessive bail”(2). In England parliament decided to make bailable and non-bailable crime but it seemed that the king would still make it so they did not have to set a bail. Eventually in 1679 the Habeas Corpus Act was passed which forced the judges to set bail, but they would make it an unheard of amount. When the English Bill of Rights was written in 1689 it held that “excessive bail ought not to be required. “(2) However, the Bill did not decide what crimes were bailable and non-bailable offenses.

This met that the Eighth Amendment could be interpreted to mean that “bail may be denied if the charges are sufficiently serious. ”(2) In 1987 the Supreme Court decided that “the governments proposed conditions of release or detention not be ‘excessive’ in light of the perceived evil. “(2) This amendment also protects us from having to pay excessive fines for the crimes that are committed. For example the Supreme Court found it to excessive for a person to have to pay a fine of $357,144. 00 for not reporting that he took $10,000. 00 out of the United States.

Last but not least the 8th amendment protects us from having to endure cruel and unusual punishment. This simply means that the punishment must fit the crime that was committed and if it does not it can be overturned and be considered cruel and unusual. (2) Cruel and unusual punishment is something that will occur for years to come. People like to abuse their powers and sentence according to what they feel is right. The 8th amendment has made it possible for sentencing’s to be overturned and changed if the Supreme Court feels the convicted person had been sentenced to harshly.

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment. (2017, Jan 30). Retrieved May 23, 2019, from
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