WisBar News: Seventh Circuit Upholds Jury Instruction in Pretrial Detainee's Excessive Force Case:

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  • Seventh Circuit Upholds Jury Instruction in Pretrial Detainee's Excessive Force Case

    Joe Forward

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    March 4, 2014 – Michael Kingsley sued corrections officers of the Monroe County jail, complaining they used excessive force against him while he awaited trial and deprived him of his constitutional rights. Recently, a federal appeals court ruled against Kingsley.

    In federal district court, a jury ruled in favor of the defendants, a corrections deputy and a sergeant involved in a physical situation that ended with Kingsley being tasered. The defendants alleged that Kingsley resisted when they tried to move him from his cell.

    The jury instruction said Kingsley had to prove the defendants “knew that using force presented a risk of harm to plaintiff, but they recklessly disregarded plaintiff’s safety by failing to take reasonable measures to minimize the risk of harm to plaintiff.”

    Kingsley argued that the jury instruction incorrectly required him to prove the defendants’ subjective intent. All he was required to show, Kingsley argued, was that the jail officers acted objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.

    In Kingsley v. Hendrickson et al., No. 12-3639 (March 3, 2014), a panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit clarified that “intent” is a requirement in 42 U.S.C. section 1983 excessive force cases involving pretrial detainees in jail.

    “We simply must determine whether the instruction at issue was sufficiently precise in its description of the due process right of a pretrial detainee to ensure that Mr. Kingsley’s case was fairly presented to the jury,” wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple.

    After reviewing federal case law on the issue, a 2-1 majority ruled that “the instruction required a level of intent at least equivalent to recklessness,” not merely an objective Fourth Amendment inquiry into whether a corrections officer acted reasonably.

    “Our cases make clear that, although we employ the objective criteria of the Fourth Amendment as a touchstone by which to measure the gravity of the defendant officer’s conduct, we also recognize, quite clearly, the need for a subjective inquiry into the defendant’s state of mind in performing the activity under scrutiny,” Ripple wrote.

    Judge David Hamilton dissented. He argued that “[i]f a pretrial detainee can prove that a correctional officer used objectively unreasonable force against him, it should be self-evident that the detainee was ‘punished’ without due process of law.”