The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

8th Amendment

Application and Interpretation

Excessive Bails and Fines

When determining what amount of bail should be deemed within acceptable limits and what amount would be “excessive,” the Court has determined that the test must be governed by the purpose of granting bail: ensuring that a criminal defendant shows up at his trial. The 8th Amendment, they concluded, requires that bail not be set “at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated” to ensure that the accused does not skip town (Stack v. Boyle, 1951). When calculating that amount, the Court may take into account the financial standing and past actions of the accused as well as the nature of the crime. The Court may also consider whether the accused, if free, would pose a threat to the community (United States v. Goba, 2003).

The Supreme Court has never explicitly applied this clause to the states (or “incorporated” it against them). Nonetheless, in Schilb v. Kuebel (1971), the Court declared that “the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of excessive bail has been assumed to have application to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Court has had relatively few run-ins with the “excessive fines” clause. There is little guidance in the historical record to shed light on what “excessive” might mean. In United States v. Bajakajian (1998), the Court declared that a fine would have to be “grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant’s offense” in order to violate the 8th Amendment.