cruel and unusual punishment


: punishment that is very harsh and too severe for the crime
The law forbids cruel and unusual punishment.

Examples of cruel and unusual punishment in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Over a forceful dissent from its three liberal members, the Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from a prisoner in Illinois held in solitary confinement who said that prolonged denial of outdoor exercise was cruel and unusual punishment. Adam Liptak, New York Times, 13 Nov. 2023 He was found guilty in July after having previously been indicted on charges of depriving the victims of their constitutional right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Phil Helsel, NBC News, 19 Oct. 2023 Mississippi’s lifetime ban on certain felons voting constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, potentially paving the way for tens of thousands to regain their voting rights. Shera Avi-Yonah, Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2023 To willfully deprive any individual without due process or subject the same to cruel and unusual punishment can’t be tolerated or perceived to be so commonplace it’s considered normal inside of our institutions. Howard Koplowitz |, al, 12 Sep. 2023 Lawyers for the prisoner, William Kemmler, alleged that the method violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lauren Gill, ProPublica, 29 Apr. 2023 The plaintiffs succeeded using an uncommon legal strategy for voting rights cases, focusing on the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Shera Avi-Yonah, Anchorage Daily News, 6 Aug. 2023 The issue of being subjected to multiple needle sticks to establish over an extended period of time could violate Barber’s Eighth Amendment rights, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, his attorneys have argued. Paul Gattis |, al, 17 July 2023 The three-judge panel that issued the Grants Pass ruling wrongly applied the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, O’Scannlain wrote. Maxine Bernstein, Anchorage Daily News, 6 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cruel and unusual punishment.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Dictionary Entries Near cruel and unusual punishment


cruel and unusual punishment

cruel blow

Cite this Entry

“Cruel and unusual punishment.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Legal Definition

cruel and unusual punishment

cruel and un·​usu·​al punishment
: punishment that is offensive to the contemporary morality or jurisprudence (as by being degrading, inflicting unnecessary and intentional pain, or being disproportionate to the offense)
nor cruel and unusual punishments inflictedU.S. Constitution amend. VIII
see also Gregg v. Georgia compare corporal punishment, death penalty

Note: A cruel and unusual punishment is essentially one that the courts consider to violate the Eighth Amendment based on a variety of criteria. The interpretation of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment has changed over time and has varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most forms of corporal punishment formerly used at common law have been found to be cruel and unusual punishments.

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