[H]owever unlimited the power of the court may seem, it is far from being wholly arbitrary; but its discretion is regulated by law. For the bill of rights has particularly declared, that excessive fines ought not to be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted . . .
from the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution
I have always loved the sound of the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment.” Sonically, you get all four of the basic metrical feet in four words, a trochee, an anapest, an iamb, and a dactyl, in that order. Plus the delicious elongation of the long U sounds of cruel and unusual, not mention the internal rhyme of “un” and “pun.”
Mr. Tom Waits, would you please indulge us with a recitation?
Something so horrid shouldn’t sound so enticing.
To me, it’s amazing that some state approved punishments aren’t considered cruel and unusual. Take death by the electric chair, for example.
For execution by the electric chair, the person is usually shaved and strapped to a chair with belts that cross his chest, groin, legs, and arms. A metal skullcap-shaped electrode is attached to the scalp and forehead over a sponge moistened with saline. The sponge must not be too wet or the saline short-circuits the electric current, and not too dry, as it would then have a very high resistance. An additional electrode is moistened with conductive jelly (Electro-Creme) and attached to a portion of the prisoner’s leg that has been shaved to reduce resistance to electricity. The prisoner is then blindfolded. (Hillman, 1992 and Weisberg, 1991) After the execution team has withdrawn to the observation room, the warden signals the executioner, who pulls a handle to connect the power supply. A jolt of between 500 and 2000 volts, which lasts for about 30 seconds, is given. The current surges and is then turned off, at which time the body is seen to relax. The doctors wait a few seconds for the body to cool down and then check to see if the inmate’s heart is still beating. If it is, another jolt is applied. This process continues until the prisoner is dead. (Wikipedia).
Here’s a link to a more thorough explanation via video.
Although only 9 of the 45 executed in the US in the last 15 years have gone to the electric chair, it is still used, and, therefore, not all that “unusual.” The rest of the state-sponsored offings were rendered via lethal injection, but now that drug companies are balking at providing lethal drugs, the good ol’ electric chair might make a comeback.
To me a truly cruel and unusual punishment would be something like this, not lethal, more like an “enhanced timeout.”
Let’s say some miscreant has mocked someone with a physical disability.
You strap him into an electric chair, inject him with an amphetamine, and force him to watch ten consecutive episodes of Little House on the Prairie.
I guarantee you he’ll never do it again. In fact, he might prefer the actual electric chair and its 2000 volts.