Cruel and Unusual Punishment Law and Legal Definition

Cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution as well as some state constitutions. The U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

The defendant has the burden of proving that his punishment is greater than that imposed for more serious offenses in the state and that similar offenses in other states do not carry punishments as severe. Critics of the death penalty argue that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The issue of cruel and unusual punishment often arises in claims of prisoner mistreatment by officials.