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Understanding the 8th Amendment

Understanding the 8th Amendment

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States serves to protect those found guilty of crimes from being treated unfairly and in an unlawful manner. The Eighth Amendment reads, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." 

Eighth Amendment rights include three distinct clauses that provide for certain rights to individuals convicted of a crime. Like many of the Amendments under the Bill of Rights, the inclusion of the Eighth Amendment has precedence in English Law. Much of the reason for inclusion of the Eighth Amendment is due to a particular case in England, where a man was sentenced to imprisonment, which also included whipping and being put to the stocks for two days. This individual, Titus Oates, was found guilty of committing perjury, a common and ordinary crime that would not warrant such punishment. Eventually, "cruel and unusual punishment" would be barred by the English Parliament in 1689, four years after the Oates ordeal. 

The Eighth Amendment would not only include the outlawing of excessive and cruel punishment, but would also provide for unfair and excessive bail and fines to be implemented on an individual. The excessive bail clause limits the power of the courts of set bail for an accused or alleged criminal during arrest before the trial is to commence.

Bail refers to the amount of money that an accused individual must present as collateral for their guaranteed appearance at the set court date for the criminal proceedings. After the result of the case, regardless of the verdict rendered, the accused has the right to retrieve the amount that was given. If the accused individual, however, fails to appear in court on the set date and time, the defendant will lose or forfeit the amount of money given and may face further charges for not being present in court on the imposed date.

The amount of bail for an accused person is determined by a number of factors:

          The severity of the alleged crime;

          The weight of evidence against the defendant;

          The moral character proven by the defendant, such as conduct with the family or occupation, as well as involvement in the community;

          The ability of the defendant to pay a certain amount;

          Whether or not the defendant will flee or not meet the court date if released on bail.