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Supreme Court rules for inmate in pre-trial excessive force case
Supreme Court rules for inmate in pre-trial excessive force case

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Kingsley v. Hendrickson [SCOTUSblog materials] that force used against pre-trial detainees must be “objectively reasonable,” the same standard used outside of prisons. The plaintiff in the case brought an excessive force claim against the government under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause [LII backgrounder] and 42 USC §1983 [text]. The government had argued that the standard should be subjective: whether an officer used more force than they believed was necessary, and cited Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment [LII backgrounder] precedence involving inmates already convicted of a crime. Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer rejected both the subjective standard and the application of the Eighth Amendment reasoning, but left the question of whether the objective standard also applied to convicted inmates open:

We acknowledge that our view that an objective standard is appropriate in the context of excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment may raise questions about the use of a subjective standard in the context of excessive force claims brought by convicted prisoners. We are not confronted with such a claim, however, so we need not address that issue today.

The decision vacated an earlier ruling [opinion, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and remanded the case for the court to determine whether jury instructions given were harmless despite their failure to comply with an objective standard.

Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Samuel Alito also filed a dissent. The court granted certiorari to the case in January and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in April.