St. Mary's Law Journal


Anthony A. Avey


In Hudson v. McMillian, the Supreme Court held that use of excessive physical force against an inmate may constitute cruel and unusual punishment even though the prisoner does not suffer any significant injury. The Eighth Amendment has evolved significantly since its adoption in 1791, becoming a complex line of authority which over time expanded the rights of criminals and convicts. Recent cases have attempted to mold the varying Eight Amendment standards into a more cohesive legal doctrine. These efforts were meant to clarify the doctrine of cruel and unusual punishments; however, the divergent interpretations of these decisions rendered Eighth Amendment jurisprudence far from clear. The Court faced with these divergent standards in Hudson held the extent of an inmate’s injury would be only one of many factors to consider in determining Eighth Amendment violations. The core inquiry is the subjective determination of good faith application of force, differentiating past holdings using the deliberate indifference standard. While the Court concluded that prisoners need no significant injury to invoke Eighth Amendment protections, the subjective standard will increase the difficulty prisoners face in bringing suit. In attempting to clarify the confusing standards, Hudson merely adds to the chaos. Although both the majority and the dissenting opinions contain faults, both also contain valuable concepts. Perhaps a combination of these ideas can be greater than the sum of the separate parts. Fashioning a uniform Eighth Amendment standard is possible by combining the preexisting deliberate indifference model with modifications from the majority in Hudson. This would lower the subjective element from good faith to deliberate indifference while maintaining an inmate’s injury as only a factor requiring consideration in determining Eighth Amendment violations. Because prisoners would be able to recover more easily, cruel and unusual punishments would be discouraged.


St. Mary's University School of Law