Volume 58

Pretrial Detainees and the Objective Standard After Kingsley v. Hendrickson

by Kate Lambroza

In 2015, the Supreme Court held in Kingsley v. Hendrickson that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees against state prison officials are measured by an objective reasonableness standard. Pretrial detainees bring § 1983 claims under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because they are detained but are not yet convicted. Thus, constitutional violations under § 1983 are viewed as an infringement of their due process rights. Since Kingsley, circuit courts have split on whether the objective reasonableness standard extends to other kinds of pretrial detainee claims. These claims include conditions of confinement, failure-to-protect, and inadequate medical care claims. Some circuits apply the objective reasonableness standard articulated by the Court in Kingsley to these additional claims. The objective standard requires that an official should have known of a risk to the pretrial detainee and did nothing to abate the risk. Other circuits, however, apply a subjective standard, also known as deliberate indifference. The subjective standard requires that the official actually knew of the risk to the pretrial detainee and did nothing to mitigate the risk. The practical consequence of the split is that a pretrial detainee will face drastically different standards depending on where the claim is brought. This Note argues that the Supreme Court should extend the objective standard to all pretrial detainee claims, not just those of excessive force. The objective standard is more consistent with the demands of the Fourteenth Amendment and Supreme Court precedent. Circuits that continue to apply the subjective deliberate indifference standard rely on circuit precedent that is inconsistent with Kingsley and conflicts with the guarantees of due process.

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