8th Amendment Rights
A federal appeals court recently upheld the death sentence of a man who killed a South Dakota doughnut shop worker in 1992. The South Dakota Attorney General later commented that the 8th Circuit’s decision, in this case, was “appropriate and constitutional.” The decision comes after the man was convicted in 1993 and the state Supreme Court affirmed its sentence and conviction in 1996.
One of the many questions that individuals involved in criminal cases ask is what constitutional protections exist against unfair legal punishments and penalties. Many of these protections are found in the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits the federal government from requiring you to face excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments. The Supreme Court of the United States has also consistently held that criminal sentences that are barbarous, inhumane, shock the social conscience, or are outrageous, are unconstitutional in nature.
How the Eighth Amendment Influences Sentencing
The 8th Amendment has had a significant impact on how judges issue sentences. One of the most cited sections of the Eighth Amendment is its cruel and unusual punishment element, which requires criminal sentences to be in proportion to the severity of the crime of which a person is convicted. If you have been convicted and are faced with a sentence that is disproportionate to your offense, you likely have the strong basis for an appeal.
Some of the common types of sentences that violate the Eighth Amendment include:
- The Death Penalty: Prosecution is capable of imposing the death penalty if it has given the jury evidence on which to find a defendant guilty of murder. In federal courts, the death penalty can only be imposed if the person being charged had an intent to kill and performed the killing. If a person did not have the intent to kill or did not perform the actual killing, that individual cannot be charged with the death penalty. In addition to murder of this nature, there are also many other federal offenses that can result in a person facing the death penalty, which include torture resulting in death, war crimes resulting in death, sexual abuse resulting in death, causing death by explosive, and assassinating the president or a member of his staff.
- Defendants Declared Mentally Insane: The Eighth Amendment prohibits individuals who are declared by the court of being legally insane from being sentenced to the death penalty. The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently upheld its holding from the 1986 Ford v. Wainwright case that a person does not have a rational understanding of the reason for his execution.
- Minors: Under protection offered by the eighth amendment, individuals under the age of 18 cannot be charged with the death penalty.
- Fines: Any fines that a person convicted of a crime is required to pay must be proportionate to the crime. A fine is considered excessive (and as a result, prohibited) if it was imposed in an “arbitrary” or “capricious” manner, was so excessive that it constitutes a deprivation of property and a violation of the due process.
Speak with a Seasoned Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a loved one believes that your constitutional rights were violated during the sentencing part of a federal criminal trial, you should not hesitate to speak with a knowledgeable appeals attorney. Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today for assistance.