Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dismal thoughts on Noble v. Adams

So this past week the Ninth Circuit, following the awful "oops, they didn't mean to" standard of Saucier v. Katz, said prison officials in 2002 couldn't have known if they were breaking the law by issuing a lockdown order that denied outdoor exercise to a prisoner for seven months. So although "the deprivation of exercise for the seven month period is sufficiently serious to meet the objective component of an Eighth Amendment violation," they had pretty good reasons for what they did so the prisoner still can't sue. Bob Egelko of the SF Chron wrote up the details.

The case is Noble v. Adams, and it suggests a few sad thoughts.

- The courts care more whether guards or officers subjectively meant to break the law than they do about criminal defendants' good intentions. I mean, you wouldn't get far with Saucier logic in traffic court: "I couldn't know that yellow light would be so short, Your Honor, so don't blame me if it turned red before I could slow down."

- The text of the Noble case narrates as background a set of prison security decisions that granted or denied privileges to categories of prisoners defined in part by race. That's just background. The court doesn't even seem to question it.

- When you think about a prisoner's right to engage in outdoor exercise, how many American adults assert such a right in their own lives, and how many American children are denied it?

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