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Cruel and Unusual Punishment

June 10th, 2015 at 7:10 am

Illinois defense lawyer, Illinois criminal attorney, your rights,Some criminal cases result in dismissals or acquittals. Others result in plea bargains where a defendant admits his or her guilt of a crime in exchange for a more lenient sentence. In other cases a defendant is convicted at trial or pleads guilty without a plea agreement in place. In that lasts group of cases it is extremely important for a defendant to have an attorney who is experienced in handling sentencing hearings in order for the defendant to obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances. Many individuals who are facing the possibility of very long sentences in these cases have questions about “cruel and unusual punishment.” Here we explain what the United States Constitution has to say about cruel and unusual punishment.

The Eighth Amendment

U.S. citizens’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment is found in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment says:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.  

While this amendment is fairly short, it covers a lot. The United States Supreme Court has held over the years that this provision prohibits the use of some punishments while it limits the use of others based on their being excessive for certain crimes or when compared to the competence of the accused.

How The Court Decides if a Punishment is Cruel and Unusual

In Furman v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court listed four principles that it uses to determine whether a punishment is cruel and unusual. These four principles are:

  1. Punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity, especially torture;
  2. A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion may be cruel and unusual;
  3. A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society may be cruel and unusual; and
  4. A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary may be considered cruel and unusual.

Of course, each of these matters is a judgment call. On several of these grounds, many people would argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual, but it is still practiced in many states and so far has withstood constitutional challenge. Many would argue that solitary confinement meets many or all of these criterion, but it is still used in Illinois prisons and across the country.

Punishments that Have Been Held Cruel and Unusual

Some punishments have been held to be cruel and unusual. These punishments include:

  • The death penalty when the defendant is a juvenile;
  • The death penalty when the defendant has a mental disability;
  • Mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when the defendant is a juvenile;
  • Drawing and quartering;
  • Public dissection;
  • Burning alive;
  • Disembowelment; and
  • Revoking the citizenship of a natural-born citizen.

It is important to note that generally the length of a prison sentence will not render it cruel and unusual. However, it can if it is grossly disproportionate in duration relative to the offense.

Call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley

Have you been charged with a crime? Are you being investigated for alleged criminal activity? Then you need the assistance of an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney like Christopher Cosley. Call today at (847)394-3200 and we can schedule a meeting to discuss your situation and what we can do to be of help.

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