What IS Cruel and Unusual Punishment…Really?

Cruel and Unusual Punishment is a topic which often stirs heated debates, with both sides offering strong points to consider. The recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett once again brings this issue to the news.


In case you missed it, Oklahoma Department of Corrections botched the execution of death row inmate Clayton Lockett today. Officials have stated that the execution of Lockett by lethal injection went wrong because of a collapsed vein, but that is not the part that is causing an uproar. After realizing that Clayton Lockett was in severe pain and not dying softly as he should, officials had to restrain the inmate by using a stun gun on him before adding a secondary injection in his groin. Instantly, advocacy groups began decrying the Cruel and Unusual nature of the punishment of Clayton Lockett.

Naturally, this situation raises many questions, not the least of which is What IS Cruel and Unusual Punishment…Really?

The Issue of Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Death Penalty

Let me first state for the record that as a rule, I oppose the death penalty. The reason is not so much the penalty itself, as it is the discriminate way it is often meted out. Far too often in our nation, innocent people are railroaded by ambitious, unscrupulous prosecutors and a judicial system overloaded. I believe that as long as we are 100% certain a person has committed a heinous crime, then there should be no reason to avoid the death penalty. However, therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare put it.

Sadly, because of the many problems we have with our judicial system today, even when we are 100% certain, we often find that we are wrong. I believe as did the framers of our Constitution that we would be better letting a guilty man go free than for an innocent to be deprived of life or liberty. That said, there ARE instances wherein the evidence is VERY clear, such as when someone shoots up a school or shopping mall in clear view of hundreds of witnesses.

What IS Cruel and Unusual Punishment…Really?

It is a rare occasion that I disagree with the United States Supreme Court. I have read hundreds of opinions and often find my opinions changed by their excellent arguments. However, on the issue of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, I respectfully dissent.

Notable cases involving the concept of Cruel and Unusual Punishment are…

US death penalty methods
US death penalty methods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Collectively, these cases have led us to where we are today. You can read more about each by clicking on the links. Today, we consider beheading and other former methods of execution to be cruel and/or unusual punishments. The Supreme Court has rightfully placed a moratorium on executing those without the mental capacity to understand the wrongness of their course. At one time, those below a certain age were likewise excluded, though this has been terribly relaxed in recent years, with Florida actually seeking the death penalty against an 8-year-old.

In the case of Clayton Lockett, the fact that the lethal injection was botched and he did not softly slip into a deathly sleep is being touted as Cruel and Unusual punishment. Is it?

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Facts being facts, Clayton Lockett was convicted of shooting Stephanie Nieman in 1999. She was 19. She was shot, then buried alive in a shallow grave, where she ultimately died. Thus, the young woman, wounded, eventually suffocated. Can we imagine that her death was painful? Was her death horrifying? Can any of us imagine what was going through her mind as she slipped from this life?

A state-by-state map of the minimum age for be...
A state-by-state map of the minimum age for being sentenced to execution in the United States in 2000, prior to the Roper v. Simmons case in March 2005. no capital punishment minimum age of 18 minimum age of 17 minimum age of 16 Federal government: minimum age of 18 U.S. military: minimum age of 16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So IF Clayton Lockett was indeed guilty, why should we believe that he is entitled to a peaceful death? If he was indeed guilty, then it stands to reason that his particular punishment, botched though it may have been, was certainly NEITHER Cruel, nor Unusual.

There is not a single society in the history of man which has not determined that the punishment should not fit the crime. Every society, regardless of the laws adopted, regardless of the structure, has stood by the concept of “eye for an eye.” Virtually every person, when pressed, will admit that a punishment should fit the crime.

Thus, if a person kills another in a painful and heinous manner, that person should face a painful, heinous exit. This is not only NOT Cruel and Unusual, but reasonable. Of course, maybe that is what the Oklahoma Department of Corrections was going for all along.


President, Publisher at Oakes Media Group
C J Oakes is an author and freelance writer from Lubbock, TX, USA. In addition to this website, he operates OakesWriting.com and BuyLocalLubbock.com.

As an author, he has numerous books to his credit including the best-selling Survive and Thrive After the Collapse of the Dollar series. In addition, he has written over a hundred books for clients since 2011 and has created innumerable web pages for law firms and others worldwide.

Passionate about Justice, Mr. Oakes believes that the scales of justice are never balanced, but it is the duty of each citizen to do their part to re-calibrate the scales as needed. When the scales of justice shift too far to one side, they must be returned a near as possible to center.

He built this site with the goal of helping students of criminal justice understand how to apply the principles needed for re-calibrating the scales as well as providing easy access to needed study resources.

Criminal Justice Law International welcomes guest posts and anyone interested in contributing to the goals of the site.

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