The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Eighth Amendment

How does the Court determine whether punishment is cruel and unusual?

Courts ask whether the punishment comports with what are called “contemporary, evolving standards of decency.” They also examine whether the punishment for a crime is disproportionate to the offense. For example, a 20-year prison term for shoplifting a small amount of merchandise would appear to be quite disproportionate. The Courts also examine whether the punishment is directly related to legitimate penological objectives.


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