The Illusory Eighth Amendment

59 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2014 Last revised: 23 Sep 2015

See all articles by John F. Stinneford

John F. Stinneford

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 2013


Although there is no obvious doctrinal connection between the Supreme Court’s Miranda jurisprudence and its Eighth Amendment excessive punishments jurisprudence, the two are deeply connected at the level of methodology. In both areas, the Supreme Court has been criticized for creating “prophylactic” rules that invalidate government actions because they create a mere risk of constitutional violation. In reality, however, both sets of rules deny constitutional protection to a far greater number of individuals with plausible claims of unconstitutional treatment than they protect.

This dysfunctional combination of over- and underprotection arises from the Supreme Court’s use of implementation rules as a substitute for constitutional interpretation. A growing body of scholarship has shown that constitutional adjudication involves at least two distinct judicial activities: interpretation and implementation. Prophylactic rules are defensible as implementation tools that are necessary to reduce error costs in constitutional adjudication. This Article contributes to implementation rules theory by showing that constitutional interpretation, defined as a receptive and non-instrumental effort to understand constitutional meaning, normally must precede constitutional implementation. When the Supreme Court constructs implementation rules without first interpreting the Constitution, the rules appear arbitrary and overreaching because they do not have a demonstrable connection to constitutional meaning. Such rules also narrow the scope of the Constitution itself, denying protection to any claimant who does not come within the rules. The only way to remedy this dysfunction and provide meaningful protection across a broad range of cases is to interpret the Constitution before implementing it.

Keywords: Eighth Amendment, Cruel and Unusual, Originalism, Implementation, Original Meaning, Constitution, Constitutional Interpretation, Interpretation, Miranda, Fifth Amendment

Suggested Citation

Stinneford, John F., The Illusory Eighth Amendment (2013). American University Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2013, Available at SSRN:

John F. Stinneford (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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