WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for inmates who are accused of crimes — but not yet convicted — to bring cases of excessive force against jail officials.
The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of a Wisconsin man who sued jail officers for civil rights violations after they used a Taser gun and other rough tactics while transferring him to another jail cell.
The incident involved Michael Kingsley, who was jailed pending trial on drug charges. He claimed he only had to show the officers were unreasonable in using force.
A lower court ruled Kingsley also had to prove the use of force was intentional, or at least reckless. But the Supreme Court agreed with Kingsley that he only needed to show the conduct was “objectively unreasonable.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the standard should not be applied “mechanically.” He said a court must consider the perspective of “a reasonable officer on the scene,” taking account of the need to manage the jail and maintain order and security.
Breyer was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said a prison guard’s use of more force than necessary might have been “the result of a misjudgment about the degree of force required to maintain order or protect other inmates” and not any improper motive.
Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Samuel Alito dissented separately to say he would have dismissed the case until the court decides when a pretrial inmate can bring a claim of excessive force against a jail employee.