Last term the United States Supreme Court held that pretrial detainee excessive force claims against corrections officers are governed by an objective reasonableness standard. It resolved a dispute between the Circuits, choosing the more plaintiff-friendly “objective reasonableness” standard over the more difficult subjective standard of “intent to violate the law.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015).
While the case is a wonderful nugget to digest and argue amongst lawyers, and is currently providing great fodder for expert analysis of precedents, policy and politics, we on the trial level have the nuts and bolts task of taking the new standard and hammering facts into its framework. We need to build a case like workers build a building: finding and fitting solid, quality facts into a finely crafted case structure, designed to withstand the opposition at trial and the windy side of the law on appeal.
To do this with the new Kingsley standard, we must examine and analyze the “objective reasonableness” standard in terms of practical human experience. The court provided some illustrative circumstances in its decision, but each case stands on its own facts. A trial lawyer must roll up his or her sleeves and delve deeply: doggedly investigating, pursuing discovery, seeking witnesses who observed and can identify the circumstances that show the unreasonableness of the force. Then comes the extracting of the cream, and the hard work of carefully crafting a case theory with the most solid and persuasive facts, to fit with brilliant simplicity into the fabric of the law.
These nuts and bolts skills are vital to winning. Even with a finely crafted case structure, the questions asked in depositions, hearings, or at trial must be asked with the case theory in mind. The evidence you offer must be offered strategically, to support the case theory and dovetail with the favorable law. Any evidence offered by the opposition that works against your theory must be strongly and intelligently opposed. Every facet of the case should assist both judge and jury in seeing the case through your client's lens.
Here at TSI we can provide you with the nuts and bolts “know-how” to construct and try a successful case. Let us help you help your clients!