Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in an inmate’s claim that the conditions in which he was housed violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. While the case arose out of a federal prison in Texas, it illustrates the prison conditions throughout state and federal prisons in California. The opinion was a welcome step towards the High Court recognizing the inhumane conditions many men and women face after being convicted of a serious crime.
The Facts of the Case
In the case, the petitioner, Trent Taylor, was convicted of armed robbery and given a sentence of 11 years’ incarceration. While he was serving his sentence at a federal prison, Taylor alleged that prison staff kept him in unsanitary conditions that violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment.
In his petition, Taylor explained that, for six days, he was kept in two cells that were grossly unsanitary. Apparently, there was human waste covering the floor of his cell, and also “packed inside the water faucet.” Taylor, worried that his food and water would get contaminated by the disgusting conditions, refused to drink eat anything for four days.
Prison staff then moved Taylor to another cell. In this second cell, conditions only got worse. The drain was clogged, and there was no place for Taylor to relieve himself, so he held his bladder for more than 24 hours. Eventually, Taylor involuntarily relieved himself, causing raw sewage to spill onto the floor. The cell did not have a bed of any type, so Taylor had no choice but to sleep in the sewage.
Taylor filed a claim under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, claiming that his conditions of confinement violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The lower courts rejected his claim, which ultimately made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court’s Opinion
The Court held that the lower courts erred in dismissing Taylor’s claim. The Court explained that, while prison guards may be entitled to official immunity in some situations, that was not the case here. Specifically, the court noted that “qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted.” However, the Court explained that, given the conditions described by Taylor, “no reasonable correctional officer could have concluded … it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions” for the six-day period he was forced to endure the conditions.
In coming to this conclusion, the Court reasoned that there was nothing in the record suggesting that there was an exigency requiring prison officials to house Taylor in such unsanitary conditions. The Court also noted that there were likely steps correctional officers could have taken to cure the conditions, and their failure to do so showed deliberate indifference.
This case illustrates the horrifying conditions that many inmates face after being convicted of a serious crime. To be sure, this is a serious societal problem, and it is nice to see the High Court recognize that keeping men and women in such unsanitary conditions is unacceptable in a civilized society.
Are You Serving a Lengthy Prison Sentence?
If you or a loved one is currently serving a long prison sentence in California, it may seem as though all hope is lost. But do not give up hope. Attorney Matthew Barhoma is an experienced California criminal appeals lawyer who handles all types of appellate and post-conviction cases on behalf of his clients. He aggressively pursues every avenue of relief for his clients, in hopes of getting their conviction or sentence reversed. With Attorney Barhoma’s help, you may be able to obtain the relief you’ve been seeking. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 213-800-7664 today.