Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: June 2020

4 - Eighth Amendment Values

from Part II - The Landscape of Eighth Amendment Doctrine


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.