Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The 8th Amendment is the last in a series of protections in the Bill of Rights that primarily guard the rights of a defendant in court proceedings. The first clause prevents courts from imposing “excessive bail” while a defendant awaits trial. The last two clauses ensure that, if a person is found guilty of an infraction or a crime, he will not suffer “excessive fines” or “cruel and unusual punishments.”
These important protections had already enjoyed a lengthy history in English law before they were assimilated into America’s founding documents. Early Americans tended to give a somewhat broader meaning to the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause than the English had done. Current controversies center on whether the meaning of this clause should be broadened still further today—for instance, to include a prohibition on capital punishment.