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Does the death penalty violate the 8th Amendment? Please explain.

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proctor123 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted November 30, 2010 at 4:56 PM via web

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Does the death penalty violate the 8th Amendment?

Please explain.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 30, 2010 at 5:00 PM (Answer #2)

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There is, of course, no objective answer to this question.  The term "cruel and unusual punishment" is in no way objective.  So each person must decide for themselves whether the death penalty is "cruel" or "unusual."

In my opinion, the death penalty itself is not cruel or unusual.  Of course, killing someone is a harsh punishment.  But then again, so is placing someone in a tiny cell for the rest of their lives.  There is no such thing as a nice punishment.  So I cannot see how execution of convicts is, in and of itself, excessively cruel.

In addition, you have to consider what the people who get executed have done.  In general, these are the people who have committed the most heinous crimes.  They deserve harsh punishment.  So long as the execution process does not torture them, I have no problem with the idea of executing people who have been convicted of horrific crimes.

Courts have generally agreed with me.  The Supreme Court has never struck down the death penalty itself, though it did (in the 1970s) shut it down for a while for being too arbitrary.

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martinjmurphy | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted December 1, 2010 at 9:02 AM (Answer #3)

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The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution bars the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment for federal crimes and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment keeps the states from doing the same for state crimes.  The Supreme Court has the final say in what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and in doing so, it usually looks at two aspects of punishment, the amount of punishment and the method of punishment.  The Court has said that Eighth Amendment must "draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

The Court has not said that the death penalty itself is cruel and unusual, and has never declared an execution method to be cruel and unusual, but it has limited the people who may be given the death penalty.  The insane (Ford v. Wainwright) and the mentally retarded (Atkins v. Virginia) are two examples of those who cannot be given the death penalty.  Mandatory death sentences were found to be unconstitutional because they do not take into consideration circumstances mitigating a death sentence (Lockett v. Ohio)

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:21 AM (Answer #4)

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So if America had a tradition of executing criminals by tossing them from a cliff, and had done so for 100 years, would that not be "unusual"?  I find the death penalty inherently legally problematic.  There is no way to prove that the electric chair, or lethal injection fr that mater, are not cruel or do not cause pain.  We have no way to measure pain scientifically.  That's why my doctor still has the goofy 1 - 10 pain scale chart hanging on the wall of his office: we depend on patient feedback to assess pain levels.  In the case of executions, we cannot prove one way or the other whether the execution is cruel, we can only gauge it on the appearance of humanity.  So I don't think there's a way to fit the death penalty into our legal system without fitting injustices right alongside it.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 30, 2010 at 6:11 PM (Answer #5)

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I would have to agree with the above post in that we really have no way of knowing for sure if the current methods of execution cause enough pain to be considered cruel and unusual. I think thet the perception is that being gassed or receiving a lethal injection are painless, but no way of knowing for sure.

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kvanesaa93 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:23 PM (Answer #6)

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There is, of course, no objective answer to this question.  The term "cruel and unusual punishment" is in no way objective.  So each person must decide for themselves whether the death penalty is "cruel" or "unusual."

In my opinion, the death penalty itself is not cruel or unusual.  Of course, killing someone is a harsh punishment.  But then again, so is placing someone in a tiny cell for the rest of their lives.  There is no such thing as a nice punishment.  So I cannot see how execution of convicts is, in and of itself, excessively cruel.

In addition, you have to consider what the people who get executed have done.  In general, these are the people who have committed the most heinous crimes.  They deserve harsh punishment.  So long as the execution process does not torture them, I have no problem with the idea of executing people who have been convicted of horrific crimes.

Courts have generally agreed with me.  The Supreme Court has never struck down the death penalty itself, though it did (in the 1970s) shut it down for a while for being too arbitrary.

No offense.. but how is the death penalty not cruel. their taking somenes right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human rights.Why kill a criminal because he killed someone, what is the difference between us and them. the death penalty is violent and takes away life, then we are violating the fundamental principle of society. It's cruel and it's just not reasonable it's just an exercise for revenge. they dont stop to think they might be killing an innocent man.yes, i know that keeping them in prison is harsh but were showing at least a little mercy. we are giving them their rights. No matter if he's a criminal or not it's not suppose to be in our hands to take someones life, even if they did.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 21, 2011 at 1:06 PM (Answer #7)

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I agree that it is hard to come up with a legal definition of cruel and unusual.  I am sure the founders considered such things as draw-and-quarter and pouring hot oil on wounds as cruel, but even those were actually quite usual in some places for awhile.  It almost seems to me that the writers were trying to discourage that government from getting creative and coming up with harsher and cleverer ways to kill people and make them suffer.

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