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Smart use of smart weapons: jail officer liability for the inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees


The US Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015) ruled that the use of a taser on a pretrial detainee for not following verbal commands, when the subject was not posing a threat to the security and order of the jail, was objectively unreasonable, unrelated to legitimate penological needs, and that the subjective intent of the officer was not to be taken into consideration. This is a major development in prison law as the US Supreme Court specifically addresses the issue of excessive use of force on pretrial detainees, who are distinct from prison inmates. Here, the objective reasonableness standard used in Graham v. Connor (1989) for excessive use of force by the police was applied to pretrial detainees instead of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause, thus clearly distinguishing pretrial detainees from those already convicted of crimes. Besides this decision, this paper looks at 10 Federal Circuit Court and US District Court cases involving the use of tasers and stun guns by jail officials on pretrial detainees and concludes that more emphasis on the use-of-force continuum or model, during jail officer training would go a long way in guiding in the appropriate use of tasers and stun guns, an intermediate and not an insignificant level of force, in keeping with the US Supreme Court ruling in Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015).

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Correspondence to Vidisha Barua Worley.

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Worley, V.B. Smart use of smart weapons: jail officer liability for the inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees. Secur J 31, 726–748 (2018).

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  • Taser
  • Use-of-force
  • Pretrial detainees
  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015)