Supreme Interpreters

That's Cruel and Unusual!

Or is it? You read in the Bill of Rights that the government cannot inflict “cruel and unusual punishments” on people. But how do we know when a punishment is cruel and unusual? How painful and weird does it have to be?

If you’re imagining all kinds of strange methods of torture that might qualify as cruel and unusual, you’re probably right. The Supreme Court has said this:

“Fines, imprisonment and even execution may be imposed depending upon the enormity of the crime, but any technique outside the bounds of these traditional penalties is constitutionally suspect.” — from Trop v. Dulles (1958)

Most cases about cruel and unusual punishment are brought by prisoners facing the death penalty. Many people believe the death penalty should be considered cruel and unusual. Yet the death penalty is a punishment carried out in many U.S. states against the very worst offenders.

The Supreme Court has limited the death penalty but has not ruled against it. Click the link to read about the death penalty in America.

Response Question: 
  • Which execution methods are constitutional? (Hint: They’re the ones states are still using.)
  • Some states have abolished the death penalty on their own. Click here to see a list. Is the death penalty legal in your state?
Response not required