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Supreme Court Rules Against Jails in Excessive Force Case


by Lisa Soronen

In Kingsley v. Hendrickson the Supreme Court held 5-4 that to prove an excessive force claim a pretrial detainee must show that the officer’s force was objectively unreasonable, rejecting the subjectively unreasonable standard that is more deferential to law enforcement. Pretrial detainee Michael Kingsley and the officers in this case agree that Kingsley refused to remove a piece of paper covering a light fixture and was forcibly removed from his jail cell so that officers could remove it. While Kingsley claims, and the officers disagree, that Kingsley resisted their efforts to remove his handcuffs and in the process the officers slammed his head against the concrete bunk, the parties agree that Kingsley was tasered. The Court held that the objective standard should apply to excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees, relying partially on precedent. In a previous case involving prison conditions affecting pretrial detainees, Bell v. Wolfish (1979), the Court used an objective standard to evaluate a prison’s practice of double bunking. And the Court pointed out that the objective standard applies to those who, like Kingsley, have been accused but not convicted of a crime, but who unlike Kingsley are free on bail. 

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