Monday, June 22, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled today in Kingsley v. Hendrickson that a pretrial detainee need only show that an officer's use of force was objectively unreasonable--and not subjectively unreasonable, a higher standard--in order to prevail on an excessive force claim. The ruling reverses the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed a trial judge's jury instruction that set the bar at the higher subjective standard, and remands the case for an application of the lower objective standard.
The ruling means that a pretrial detainee's burden in an excessive force claim is lower than the standard upheld by the Seventh Circuit. That's good news for pretrial detainees who bring civil rights claims. But the Court was quick to say that a detainee still has other hurdles to jump--including qualified immunity.
Justice Breyer wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Breyer wrote that the trial court's jury instruction based on a subjective standard--that "[e]xcessive force means force applied recklessly that is unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances [and] [d]efendants knew that using force presented a risk of harm to plaintiff, but they recklessly disregarded plaintiff's safety . . . ."--should have been been based on an objective standard--that "the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable."
Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent for himself, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas. Justice Alito also dissented, arguing that the case should be dismissed as improvidently granted.