Eighth Amendment: When Is It Too Much?
The Eighth Amendment of the American Constitution was passed in 1791, prohibiting disproportionate amounts of bail and fines, and also abolishing cruel and unusual punishment as used of deterring crime. It took inspiration from the English Bill of Rights, which is why the Eighth Amendment is almost word for word with it. Though the Eighth Amendment is necessary for criminals to keep their rights, the amendment doesn’t specify what is excessive bail or what cruel and unusual punishment is for each crime, for the punishment has to fit the crime to be constitutional. The government just assumed that the punishments have to follow due process, but when the Eighth Amendment was ratified in the 1800s, America handled crimes very different than now; for example, theft or larceny was punishable by death, in particular, hanging (Levy, 2018). Though the death penalty is seen as cruel and unusual punishment in the Gregg v. Georgia case, in 2001, 189 out of the 191 executions used lethal injections (cruelunusualpuns.com, 2001).
In the 200 years of having the Eighth Amendment, America has changed a lot and has defined what punishments were considered constitutional over these years. There have been some hits, but there’s also been a lot of misses. George W. Bush, in 2002, made enemies in the “War on Terror” be imprisoned in the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they were basically tortured. Many people, including President Donald Trump, argue that “they should be treated like the terrorists that they are”, but there is a multitude of innocent Afghan people being held there, who were merely accused of terrorism (Jazeera, 2019). What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Is it acceptable that innocent people are being held in a maximum-security prison and tortured? Obviously, Americans are scared of terrorists and the threat of not having safe lives, but racism toward Middle Eastern people and their unfair treatment of them cannot be justified by fear.
Dennis McGuire was convicted of killing and raping Joy Stewart, which resulted in him being executed by lethal injection. After over 20 years of his death, McGuire’s family filed a lawsuit because the drugs that were injected into him were not what was normally used and caused great pain to him, instead of the painless death that was supposed to occur. In response, the Assistant Attorney General of Ohio, Thomas Madden, stated that McGuire is “not entitled to a pain-free execution” (Clark, 2014). The question comes up again: who are we to decide who is to be executed? According to Madden, McGuire was not entitled to a painless execution because he was convicted of rape and murder, which is a natural response to people who commit extremely bad crimes such as McGuire was convicted of. However, the Eighth Amendment states that cruel and unusual punishment is unconstitutional, so is causing McGuire to take drugs that made him have “agony and terror” before killing him, not cruel or unusual? Though McGuire is a convicted rapist and murderer, he still has rights and they were not granted to him for his execution.
In Timbs v. Indiana, Timbs was charged with dealing with a controlled substance, which resulted in him paying his bail of $10,000, but later a case was filed for the forfeiture of his Land Rover that cost $40,000 (Connell, 2018). Timbs filed a lawsuit because his rights in the Eighth Amendment were violated for the forfeiture of his vehicle. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the forfeiture because it was seen as an “excessive fine”. Rightfully, the forfeiture of Timbs’ vehicle was a considerable fine for Timbs’s count of dealing with a controlled substance. Moreover, the decision of how much can bail be for someone. After President Nixon’s so-called “War on Drugs” in 1971, possession, dealing, or taking certain drugs are punishable because of the stigma about drugs, like Marijuana, which caused many people, especially people of color, to go to jail for a significant amount of time. Because of the ignorance about drugs, people are being jailed and fined, like Timbs, extremely too high, which means their rights are being compromised and that is unconstitutional according to the Eighth Amendment.
I believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment because it is irreversible. America’s government changes and the views of its people change so the way America punishments to people will be different from what it will be in the future or in the past. I also believe that capital punishment is unconstitutional because its premise of it does not make sense. Capital punishment, essentially, is killing someone for killing someone to show that killing people is wrong, which is problematic and does not have good interests for anyone apart from it. Many argue that housing and feeding inmates are expensive and that it is cheaper to use the death penalty to get rid of very bad people, but the death penalty is expensive and runs a risk of executing a wrongly accused person. Giving a person life without parole should be an alternative to the death penalty and leaving the problems of capital punishment in the past. Another argument is that those who are put in jail can get out early with good behavior, but is it not the point to make these convicted felons change their criminal ways and become better people? As humans, it is easy to place people in jail and throw away the key, especially if we believe they are bad people, but people deserve redemption, another chance to do the right thing, even if they have done horrible crimes. Punishments for crimes should be used as temporary consequences, not permanent ones like death. Most criminals who commit unthinkable crimes have mental illnesses so having reforms for criminals to learn how to cope with their mental illnesses and, ultimately, become functional citizens in society. Through working with therapists and experts in criminality and mental illnesses, these criminals can become regular people because they are regular and they are still people. As a society, helping criminals become better citizens in our country would be more beneficial than executing them because of retribution.