Constitutional Rights Myths And Realities

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Constitutional Rights myths and realities

Question 1

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, has three provisions. The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause restricts the severity of punishments that state and federal governments may impose upon persons who have been convicted of a criminal offense. The Excessive Fines Clause limits the amount state and federal governments can fine a person for a particular crime. The Excessive Bail Clause restricts judicial discretion in setting bail for the release of persons accused of a criminal activity during the period following their arrest but preceding their trial.

Courts are given wide latitude under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Fines imposed by a trial court judge or magistrate will not be overturned on appeal unless the judge or magistrate abused her or his discretion in assessing them (United States v. Hyppolite, 65 F.3d 1151 [4th Cir. 1995]). Under the "abuse-of-discretion" standard, appellate courts may overturn a fine that is arbitrary, capricious, or "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law" (Water-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 212 U.S. 86, 111, 29 S. Ct. 220, 227, 53 L. Ed. 417 [1909]). Fines are rarely overturned on appeal for any of these reasons.

Trial court judges are given less latitude under the Excessive Bail Clause. Bail is the amount of money, property, or bond a defendant must pledge to the court as security for his or her appearance at trial. If the defendant meets bail, or is able to pay the amount set by the court, the defendant is entitled to receive the pledged amount back at the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. If the defendant fails to appear as scheduled during the prosecution, the defendant forfeits the amount pledged, and still faces further criminal penalties if convicted ...
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