Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
In Robinson v. California1 the Court set aside a conviction under a law making it a crime to
be addicted to the use of narcotics. The statute was unconstitutional because it punished the
mere status of being an addict without any requirement of a showing that a defendant had ever used narcotics within the jurisdiction of the state or had committed any act at all within the state’s power to proscribe, and because addiction is an illness that—however it is acquired—physiologically compels the victim to continue using drugs. The case could stand for the principle, therefore, that one may not be punished for a status in the absence of some act,2 or it could stand for the broader principle that it is cruel and unusual to punish someone for conduct that he is unable to control, which would make it a holding of far-reaching importance.3 In Powell v. Texas,4 a majority of the Justices took the latter view of Robinson, but the result, because of one Justice's view of the facts, was a refusal to invalidate a conviction of an alcoholic for public drunkenness. Whether either the Eighth Amendment or the Due Process Clauses will govern the requirement of the recognition of capacity defenses to criminal charges remains to be decided.