Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Contrary to the notion that the eighth amendment' is confined strictly to criminal cases, the excessive fines clause of the eighth amendment should apply to the imposition of punitive damages and all judicially imposed monetary sanctions in civil cases. Although this view represents a sharp departure from accepted doctrine, this interpretation of the excessive fines clause is consistent with the historical development of the textual antecedents of the eighth amendment,s the political theory that underlies the adoption of the eighth amendment, and the contemporary purposes served by punitive damages themselves. Moreover, this view in noway violates the holdings of those cases which have articulated the doctrine that the eighth amendment applies only to criminal sanctions.'Section II of this Article summarizes the eighth amendment case law which has spawned the notion that the amendment has no applicability beyond criminal cases. Section III examines in detail the historical evolution of the excessive fines clause and the legal practices to which it and its antecedents were intended to respond.Finally, Section IV tests the congruence of this Article's thesis with both the political theory that the eighth amendment reflects and the ends sought to be achieved by punitive damages in civil actions.