• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court applied the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause to the states through incorporation via the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Potter StewartStewart, Potter;Robinson v. California[Robinson v. California] wrote the opinion for the 7-2 majority, striking down a California law that made it a crime to be a drug addict without any proof that the defendant bought, used, or possessed any drugs. Under the statute, the state could convict merely by showing tangential proof such as needle marks on the defendant’s arms. The Supreme Court reasoned that addiction was an illness rather than a crime and that even ninety days in jail amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Justices Tom C. Clark and Byron R. White dissented, asserting that detention could be used to attempt to control addiction to narcotics. The scope of the decision was substantially narrowed six years later when a new majority found that chronic alcohol addiction could be punished with jail time in Powell v. Texas[case]Powell v. Texas[Powell v. Texas] (1968).Eighth Amendment;Robinson v. California[Robinson v. California]Cruel and unusual punishment;Robinson v. California[Robinson v. California]

Cruel and unusual punishment

Due process, procedural

Eighth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Incorporation doctrine

Categories: History