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Patrick Henry Tea Party
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"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,
nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Excessive Bail Clause
Bail is an amount of money that must be given to a court by a person accused of a crime in order for
them to be able to leave the jail before the trial. If the person doesn't show up for his trial, then he
forfeits the money he gave as bail. If the person shows up on their trial date, the bail money is
returned to them. Sometimes the bail required by a court can be very high and the accused person
may not have enough to pay it. In this case, a bail bondsman can loan the money to the accused
person for a fee. If the person doesn't show up for the trial, the bondsman loses his money as well,
so it is in the bondsman's interest that the accused show up for trial. When people do not show up
for trial, bondsmen often employ bounty hunters to find the person and return them to the jail so they
can get their money back. There are several popular television shows such as "Dog, the Bounty
Hunter," that show how bounty hunters do their work.
The Excessive Bail Clause of the 8th Amendment prohibits courts from requiring unreasonably large
amounts for bail. If the amounts are too large and people cannot pay them, they would have to stay in
jail until their trial date. This would prevent an accused person from preparing their defense
adequately, since it would be hard to prepare a defense from jail. In addition, allowing an accused
person out on bail allows them to continue working to provide for their family and do other normal
activities and also reduces expenses for the local jail since they will not have to house and feed the
It is also not fair to leave a person in jail for a long period of time who has merely been accused of a
crime because, in the American legal system, people are presumed to be innocent until they are
proven guilty. At this stage, they have merely been accused of wrong doing and nothing has yet
At the same time, courts must set the bail to a sufficiently high amount so that the accused person
will have an incentive to show up for their trial because if they do not show up, they will lose their
money. If the bail is too small, the person may flee or just not show up.
Courts must also protect the community. So in some cases, they will not allow someone to pay bail
and get out of jail. This happens if the alleged crime is particularly heinous or if releasing the person
would cause some unusually dangerous threat to the community.
Excessive Fines Clause
The Excessive Fines Clause prevents judges from levying excessive fines, but what amount is
excessive? In actuality, fines are rarely overturned by higher courts unless the judge abused his
discretion when imposing the fine. Using this standard, a higher court may reverse a lower court's
arbitrary, exorbitant fines if they are "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property
without due process of law," Water-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas . Fines are rarely reversed due to any of
these 8th Amendment conditions.
Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause Appeals courts usually defer to the lower courts in cases
regarding challenges based on violations of the Excessive Bail Clause or Excessive Fines Clause.
Courts give much more scrutiny, however, to cases alleging violations of the Cruel and Unusual
The 8th Amendment requires that punishments for crimes be in proportion to the crime committed.
Punishments that are far greater than the crime should demand can be overturned by a higher court.
For example, the courts have ruled that the death penalty is out of proportion to any other crime
than one where a murder is committed, except for crimes against the government such as treason and
The courts have also ruled that if a sentence is inhuman, outrageous, or shocking to the social
conscience, it is a cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. Such things as
burning at the stake, castration, crucifixion, breaking on the wheel, cutting off body parts and so on,
fall into this category. In particular, cases involving the death penalty have received a lot of scrutiny
in regards to the 8th Amendment. There are some people who believe all death penalties constitute a
cruel and unusual punishment. Others disagree, believing that death is an appropriate punishment
in some cases.
The courts have generally decided that death is an appropriate punishment for murder, but not for
other crimes. Even so, the death penalty is "cruel and unusual" if there are mitigating factors that
would prohibit death as a punishment, such as if the convicted person was mentally incompetent at
the time the crime was committed.