Cruel and unusual, these two words have caused much debate on the issue of capital punishment. In the eighth amendment it states that cruel and unusual punishment should not be inflected. But what does cruel and unusual mean? Cruel means “causing pain and suffering” and the word unusual means “not usual; beyond the ordinary; not in common use; uncommon”. So cruel and unusual punishment means to cause pain and suffering in an uncommon way. In different situations, what is considered cruel and unusual in one case may not be so in another.
When this amendment was written, it couldn’t have been to get rid of capital punishment, because it was practiced in those days. Years ago, the common methods were hangings or firing squads. Since 1976, one person has been executed by a firing squad and two people legally hanged. But times are changing and so is the view of capital punishment being cruel and unusual.
In some situations, capital punishment can be cruel and unusual. For example, if the person is not guilty of the crime he was convicted of. But, in this case, simply being in jail would be a cruel and unusual punishment for an innocent man. Another example is if something goes wrong with the equipment being used to kill the person, causing him to go through great pain and suffering before dying. Or if the person lives and the method of killing him has to be administered again. This happened on May 4, 1990 in Florida. It took three attempts of 2,000-volt shocks in the electric chair to kill a man named Jesse Tafero. This obviously would cause a person a lot of pain and suffering and definitely fall under the category of cruel and unusual.
But on the other hand, there are some situations where capital punishment is not cruel and unusual. If the person is truly guilty for the crime he is being punished for and the method of capital punishment being used works correctly, it isn’t cruel and unusual. Because the crime that was committed to receive capital punishment was more cruel and unusual than capital punishment itself. Execution by nitrogen asphyxiation eliminates the possibility of being cruel and unusual, because it results in a painless death. It doesn’t allow oxygen to the body, but it also doesn’t allow carbon dioxide to build up in the blood. So the person doesn’t realize they are suffocating and he simply passes out without choking or gasping for air .
Another thing that can be considered cruel and unusual punishment is life in prison. Some people think that this is worse than capital punishment. Because while in prison some people are rapped, beaten, stabbed, or even killed. Living this torturous life can be considered more cruel and unusual because instead of being done quickly, it lasts the person’s whole life.
The meaning of the words cruel and unusual can apply to other situations other than capital punishment and life in prison. For example, if parents beat their child for trivial mistakes, or abuse between spouses. Another example is an owner beating his pet or neglecting it for no reason. All of these situations cause pain and suffering, and shouldn’t be usual in a home setting.
The question of whether or not capital punishment or life in prison are cruel and unusual forms of punishment will probably never have a definite answer in everyone’s eyes. But these words can have meaning in many different situations that don’t involve the eighth amendment and its usage of them.