Supreme Court announces standard for claims of excessive force against pretrial detainees

In 2011, I wrote an article for the state-wide publication Bench & Bar, entitled “Excessive Force: Disentangling Constitutional Standards.”    That article received a fair amount of attention locally.

Today, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion touching on that subject, Kingsley v. Hendrickson, attached.  It held (with 5 judges in the majority and 4 dissenting) that excessive force claims by pretrial detainees should be determined on an objective standard.  The Court cited the following standards for such claims.

Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff ’s injury;any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting. See, e.g., Graham, supra, at 396. We do not consider this list to be exclusive. We mention these factors only to illustrate the types of objective circumstances potentially relevant to a determination of excessive force.  ***

We have also explained that a court must take account of the legitimate interests in managing a jail, acknowledging as part of the objective reasonableness analysis that deference to policies and practices needed to maintain order and institutional security is appropriate.

Importantly, the jailers’ subjective intent in using force against a pretrial detainee is not a consideration under the Supreme Court’s ruling.  This issue resolved a circuit split, and arguably changes the law in the 8th Circuit (and clearly the 7th Circuit from which the case came).  This dissent by Justice Scalia read the Court’s precedents differently, and determined that a jailer’s stated of mind should be considered in such cases.

While this ruling will make analysis of such claims more simple, it will potentially expand jailers’ liability for claims of excessive force by pretrial detainees.

Kingsley Hendrickson Supreme Court on pretrial detainee