Police State/Civil Liberties

Can American police use pain to make you talk? Depends on where you live.

By Alexa Gervasi The Week

In the United States, government officials cannot inflict pain to compel you to speak — unless you live in Texas, Louisiana, or Mississippi.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that police officers do not violate the Constitution when they use “pain control maneuvers” against restrained, non-resisting people to make them answer questions, setting a dangerous, legally incorrect precedent. But the full court still has a chance to fix this outrageous decision, protect Americans from similar future abuses, and ensure that if such violations do occur, government officials are held accountable.

The Fifth Circuit is no stranger to cases that implicate the infamous qualified immunity doctrine. This judge-made rule shields government officials, including police officers, from liability — and in turn accountability — in most cases. To get past this defense, it’s not enough to show that a constitutional violation occurred. Plaintiffs must show that the official violated a “clearly established” right. To meet this high threshold, courts of appeals generally require plaintiffs to identify a case (1) from their own jurisdiction (2) with virtually identical facts (3) that holds that the specific right at issue exists. More often than not, even the smallest factual difference will prompt courts to save government officials from accountability, no matter how clear and gross the constitutional violation.


Leave a Reply