The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment for federal crimes. The 14th Amendment bars states from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments.
The Amendments deal with method and amount of punishment. The standard for cruel and unusual punishment is that the punishment shouldn’t be too severe for the crime, punishment shouldn’t be arbitrary, it shouldn’t offend society’s sense of justice and it shouldn’t exceed what a less severe penalty could accomplish.
Furthermore, a person doesn’t necessarily have to suffer physical injury or pain for their 8th Amendment rights to be trampled on.
In 1958, Trop v. Dulles, the Supreme Court held that depriving someone of their citizenship (denationalization) was barred by the 8th Amendment because even though they sustained no physical mistreatment or torture “there is total destruction of the individual’s status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political exsistence that was centuries in the development.”
I would venture to say that the sex offender registry certainly qualifies as “destroying an individual’s status in organized society”, not to mention putting not only those on it but their family and friends at ” risk of suffering physical injury or mistreatment.” Need I even mention the mental and emotional anguish?
Punishments for sex offences that can put anyone on the registry are often too severe compared to the crime comitted. As we’ve seen in recent cases, punishment does appear to be arbitrary and unbalanced. Accidental, non-contact child pornography downloads can net someone 5-10 years in prison while a rapist can get 6 months in jail. Doesn’t this inbalance “offend society’s sense of justice?”
When the Amendments were originally adopted, we were a young, evolving country but we were also burning witches at the stake and quartering individuals. Since 1958, the Supreme Court has held the opinion that the 8th Amendment must “draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
The registry is cruel and unusual punishment.
It’s time that the Supreme Court evolves, matures and does the decent thing. Either end the registry completely or use it only as it was intended, for law enforcement to monitor the most violent and predatory individuals.