Did San Diego Sheriffs Use Excessive Force When They Killed a Suicidal Suspect?

On December 2, 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of CHELSEY HAYES V. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, Case #09-55644 , heard this civil rights Complaint brought under the Federal statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law wherein a minor daughter alleged violations of her 14th and 4th Amendment rights and her deceased father’s 4th Amendment rights when San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies acted negligently in shooting and killing her father who allegedly was suicidal and wielding a knife during a response to a domestic violence call.

 In the underlying case, the Court said there was no evidence the sheriff’s fired their guns for any other purpose than self-defense and, therefore affirmed the District Court’s Decision by declaring there was no violation of plaintiff’s rights under the 14th Amendment. On the other hand, the Court reversed the lower Court after it determined a jury could conclude the use of deadly force by the sheriffs was not objectively reasonable and that under California law supported a basis for a wrongful death claim.

A compelling argument was made on behalf of Hayes that the sheriffs could have avoided the incident by obtaining more information about the suspect or requesting a psychiatric emergency response team (“PERT”) when the first deputy responded to a domestic violence call at a neighbor’s house and learned there had been no physical altercation, and before the second deputy arrived and they both entered the home. At that point it became a matter of whether the officers used excessive force.

The above reported Decision can be found at the following link: https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/12/02/09-55644.pdf


Miller v. Alabama

On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, Case # 10-9646, will decide whether a juvenile who commits a homicide and is sentenced to life in prison without parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and, therefore, a violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Miller was 14 years old at the time of the offense of killing a neighbor in a trailer park. The facts are heinous in that after severely beating the victim who could not get off the ground, Miller set fire to the trailer causing the victim to die of smoke inhalation. The defense had argued in its Brief that the trial court should be allowed to consider mitigating circumstances and the age of a minor rather than be obligated by a mandatory sentencing law. The government argued the crime was the most aggravated form of murder (bludgeoning a person to death with a baseball bat despite pleas for mercy/help, and then setting the trailer on fire). Accordingly, the prosecution argued it had appropriately used its discretion in transferring the case to adult court where the jury found Miller guilty of capital murder.

It is noteworthy that in 2010, the Supreme Court barred life without parole for youths under age 18 when convicted for non-homicide crimes in the case of Graham v.FloridaCase #08-7412, May 17, 2010https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf. The Miller Court’s Decision will determine whether the Graham holding should be applied to minors convicted of murder.

What is your opinion? Do you feel juveniles are more vulnerable to external influences, do not have the capacity as adults to exercise mature judgment and as such should not face the same penalty for a homicide?

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