Eighth Amendment Values

The Eighth Amendment and Its Future in a New Age of Punishment (Cambridge U. Press)

SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No.

15 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2021

See all articles by William W. Berry

William W. Berry

University of Mississippi School of Law

Meghan J. Ryan

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: November 9, 2021

Abstract

As with many constitutional provisions, the language of the Eighth Amendment is open-ended and vague in its proscription of excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments. Because the language of the Constitution does not provide any additional descriptive information concerning what might make bail or fines excessive, or punishments cruel and unusual, courts must look beyond the text itself to ascertain the meaning of the Eighth Amendment. With respect to the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, the U.S. Supreme Court has, over the course of several decades, articulated a number of relevant underlying values that offer some guidance in interpreting this Eighth Amendment provision. These values are also helpful in assessing the excessiveness of bail and fines.

This Chapter explores several of these core Eighth Amendment values, providing an overview of their origin and indicating how such values might apply in interpreting the Eighth Amendment in the future. Specifically, this Chapter discusses the principles of dignity, individualized sentencing, proportionality—both absolute and comparative, humanness, non-arbitrariness, and differentness. The Court has explicitly or implicitly invoked each of these values in its Eighth Amendment cases and detailed the scope and importance of these values to varying degrees. For the most part, though, the Court has remained opaque about how much each of these values influences, and should influence, its Eighth Amendment decisions.

Keywords: Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual, dignity, individualized sentencing, proportionality, humanness, non-arbitrariness, differentness

Suggested Citation

Berry, William W. and Ryan, Meghan J., Eighth Amendment Values (November 9, 2021). The Eighth Amendment and Its Future in a New Age of Punishment (Cambridge U. Press), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3960062

William W. Berry

University of Mississippi School of Law ( email )

481 Chucky Mullins Drive
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
United States
6629156859 (Phone)

Meghan J. Ryan (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

HOME PAGE: https://www.smu.edu/Law/Faculty/Profiles/Ryan-Meghan-J

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