Excessive Force Against Pretrial Detainees In Jail: An Objective Standard

When police officers use too much force against a citizen, the citizen (or his or her estate) may assert that the force was excessive, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Such claims are analyzed under an “objective standard.”  In order to prove that the force was excessive, the court will attempt to balance the amount and kind of force used against the need to use such force.  If the force is too great in relation to the officer’s need to use force, a claim may exist for a violation of the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights.  These claims do not depend on showing that the police officer acted with a culpable state of mind.  Rather, the analysis is a purely objective one.

In contrast, when police officers use too much force on a citizen who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term in jail or prison, the claim falls under the Eighth Amendment.  Eighth Amendment claims are different from Fourth Amendment claims, because the Eighth Amendment protects against “cruel and unusual punishment” whereas the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Eighth Amendment claims require a showing that the force was used with “deliberate indifference” on the part of offices.  Unlike the Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment claims by convicted prisoners do require a showing that the officers acted with a culpable state of mind (i.e., deliberate indifference to the prisoner’s constitutional rights).

What is the correct analysis when the force is used against a “pretrial detainee?”  A pretrial detainee is someone who has been accused of a crime and arrested and confined in a jail or holding facility, but not yet convicted of the crime or sentenced.  Until recently, the correct analysis of such claims was an open question.  In 2015, however, the Supreme Court decided that the analysis should be an objective one—very much like the analysis in Fourth Amendment claims—instead of a subjective one.  The case, Kingsley v. Hendrickson (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-6368_m6hn.pdf) held that excessive force claims by pretrial detainees should be analyzed under the less rigorous “objective” standard.  Claims by pretrial detainees fall under the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the deprivation of life, liberty or property without “due process.”

Any federal case brought under the Fourth, Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments involves an assertion of a constitutional violation under a law known as 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.  Damages may be recovered for such violations, including compensatory damages for pain and suffering, economic losses, attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages in the appropriate case.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of excessive force, you should consider seeking counsel experienced in handling such cases.  The attorneys at Budge & Heipt have successfully pursued excessive force claims involving wrongful shootings, restraint-related asphyxia, the use of “less lethal” force (such as beanbags, batons, and chemical spray) and various other kinds of force leading to serious injury or death.

Please contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation. There is no cost or obligation to do so. Call us today at 206.624.3060.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.