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Examination of Legal Cases Involving the Use of Tasers and Stun Guns on Pretrial Detainees

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 34 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer 2009 Pages: 9-15,23
Vidisha Barua; Robert M. Worley
Date Published
8 pages
Based on a sample of 19 cases, this study examined jail officers liabilities for using Tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees, who are presumed innocent and therefore retain their constitutional right to be free from punishment even though they are confined.
Eight of the cases involved circumstances in which the courts found the use of Tasers and stun guns by jail officers against pretrial detainees to be inappropriate. Tasering a pretrial detainee in the back when he was only passively resisting jail officers, resulting in permanent injury to his spinal cord, was ruled objectively unreasonable (Harris v. City of Circleville, 2008). Tasering a person without provocation when she was lying on the floor of her cell at night was ruled objectively unreasonable under Section 138 of the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These are examples of cases in which the use of Tasers and stun guns were held to be objectively unreasonable under the circumstances of the case. In 11 cases, the courts ruled in favor of prison officials. In these cases, courts found officers' actions to be reasonably related to the legitimate purpose of maintaining order and security in the facility. The use of Tasers and stun guns to induce compliance by difficult inmates during strip searches, for example, was held to be justified by the courts, since it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The issues of individual officer liability, official custom or policy, and adequate training must be addressed at the policymaking level on the basis of relevant court decisions that show instances where individual officers and the municipality can be held liable. 3 notes and 10 references


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