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Civil Rights: Immunity Qualified Immunity Suicide Screening

July 2nd, 2015 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015).  Christopher Barkes, a troubled man, was arrested for violating his probation.  He was taken to a correctional institution.  He had a medical evaluation to assess whether he was suicidal.  He did disclose certain risks.  He had a routine referral to mental health services.  While he was in a cell by himself, he hung himself with a sheet.  The court found qualified immunity applied.  This case came up from the Third Circuit.  No decision of the Supreme Court establishes a right to proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols.  No decision of the court even discusses suitable screening or prevention protocols.  The Third Circuit found this right clearly established by two of its own decisions, both stemming from the same case.  Even if the institution suicide screening and prevention measures contain the shortcomings alleged, no precedent on the books at the time of the hanging in this case would have made it clear to prison officials that they were overseeing a system that violated the Constitution.  At the very least, the prison officials were not contravening clearly established law.  They are entitled to qualified immunity.

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