What's at Stake
Pretrial detainees cannot be punished because they have not been convicted of any crime. Yet until recently, courts have applied the Eighth Amendment’s heightened, subjective legal standard applicable to convicted prisoners to claims brought by pretrial detainees. The ACLU is working to ensure that courts apply a lower, objective standard to Fourteenth Amendment claims brought by pretrial detainees.
In 2015, the Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson held that pretrial detainees bringing claims under the Fourteenth Amendment for excessive force need only demonstrate that the force was objectively unreasonable—a different standard than applied to convicted prisoners under the Eighth Amendment. Since then, four U.S. Courts of Appeals have extended that objective standard to conditions of confinement and medical care claims brought by pretrial detainees.
This case was brought by the family of Victoria Christine Short, who attempted suicide while held as a pretrial detainee at the Davie County Detention Center in North Carolina. She passed away from her injuries about two weeks later. The suit alleges that jail employees knew she was at risk of suicide, but failed to take reasonable measures in response. After the district court dismissed the case, the plaintiff appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Court sought briefing on the appropriate legal standard to apply to a pretrial detainee’s medical care claims following Kingsley.
We filed an amicus brief arguing that the Court should apply an objective standard. The Fourth Circuit agreed, concluding that pretrial detainees need only demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were “objectively unreasonable.” In doing so, the Fourth Circuit joins the Second, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits on the question.