Mental Illness/ Abnormality

Click on the case titles to link to the full case decision.

O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975)-A finding of "mental Illness" alone cannot justify the involuntary confinement of someone who is not a danger to himself or others. A mentally ill person also cannot be justifiably confined in order to improve their living conditions.

Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979)- Held: A "clear and convincing" standard of proof is required by the Fourteenth Amendment in a civil proceeding brought under state law to commit an individual involuntarily for an indefinite period to a state mental hospital.

Foucha v. Lousiana, 504 U.S. 71 (1992)-Foucha was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was confined in a mental institute. After a period of time, his doctor determined he was mentally normal. Foucha, however, was antisocial and fought a lot. The doctor believed that Foucha would be dangerous if released. The Court held that Foucha, who was now of a normal mental state could not be confined in a mental institution for being dangerous. The proper venue was for Foucha to be dealt with in criminal court if he harms someone.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 000 U.S. 95-1649 (1997)-A child molester, who was about to be released from prison, was determined to have a mental abnormality (pedophilia). It was also determined that he was a violent sexual predator. Kansas filed a petition under its Sexually Violent Predator Act to have Hendricks civilly committed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the civil commitment did not violate the "double jeopardy" clause of the Constitution.

Isom v. Town of Warren Rhode Island, 360 F.3d (1st Cir. 2004)-Isom was emotionally disturbed. He was armed with an ax and entered a liquor store where he took hostages. An officer pepper sprayed him. He turned, raised the ax, and charged the officers. He was shot and killed. The family sued claiming the pepper spraying of Isom inflamed the situation leading to the use of deadly force. The Court held that the actions of the officers was reasonable.

Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F. 3d 1243 (11 Cir. 2004)-Kesinger was a mentally ill person standing in traffic wanting to commit suicide. A plain-clothed detective named Herrington saw him and stopped his vehicle. He motioned Kesinger to get out of the traffic. kesinger charged him down. Kesinger told him that both of them were going to die. Herrington retreated to his vehicle. Kesinger attacked him. He heard two loud banging sounds and his car windows shattered. He thought the he was being shot at. Herrington returned fire and killed Kesinger. Kesinger broke the windows with his fists. He did not have a gun. The Court held that he shooting was justified.

Buchanan v. Maine, 06-1466 (1st Cir. 2006)-Buchanan, a mentally ill person, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia with paranoia.  Buchanan decided to stop taking his medication.  His mental disorder got worse.  He went to his neighbor's house and set  her  wood pile on fire.  The neighbor called the police and requested a welfare check on Buchanan.  The police arrived and contacted Buchanan at his residence.  Buchanan appeared to be distraught and agitated.  Buchanan began yelling nonsensical statements at the officers from his window. The officers contacted Buchanan in his doorway.  Buchanan had bloody hands and was screaming at the officers.  Officer Emerson was spit on by Buchanan. Officer Emerson followed Buchanan into his residence and upstairs to the bedroom area. While Emerson was following him, Buchanan spit on him two more times.  Buchanan then obtained a knife, grabbed Emerson, And stabbed him multiple times. Officer Emerson's partner had no choice but to draw his weapon and shoot and kill Buchanan.  The court determined that the officers had to do their duty and check the welfare of Buchanan.  They also reasonably entered Buchanan's residence because Buchanan displayed signs that he was a threat to himself and others.  The unfortunate shooting of Buchanan was justified. 

Armstrong v. Pinehurst, No. 15-1191 (4th Cir. 2016)-Armstrong was mentally ill. He left a hospital to avoid being involuntarily committed. Police found him nearby. He sat on the ground and clung to a pole to avoid being taken into custody. There were several officers present. Officers tried to pry him from the pole. An officer then used a taser multiple times in drive stun mode with no effect. Armstrong was then forcibly pulled from the pole and handcuffed. He was held face down. Armstrong stopped breathing, and died shortly after.

The 4th Circuit Court held:

Where, during the course of seizing an out-numbered mentally ill individual who is a danger only to himself, police officers choose to deploy a taser in the face of stationary and non-violent resistance to being handcuffed, those officers use unreasonably excessive force. When officers encounter a minimally threatening mentally ill person, the officer is expected to de-escalate the situation and adjust the use of force downward.

San Francisco v. Sheehan, No. 13-1412 (SCOTUS 2015)-Sheehan was living in a group home. She was mentally ill and threatened the life of her social worker. Police were called to detain her and have her evaluated at a mental facility. They arrived and entered her room. She threatened the officers with a knife. They backed out and shut her door. The officers were concerned about what she was doing in her room. She could be arming herself with other weapons or be trying to escape. The officers re-entered. Sheehan threatened the officers with the knife. She was pepper sprayed with no effect. The officers shot her multiple times. She lived and sued the officers. She claimed that the officers violated their training and did not give her reasonable accommodation for her mental illness. San Francisco trains its officers when dealing with the mentally ill to “ensure that sufficient resources are brought to the scene,” “contain the subject” and “respect the suspect’s “comfort zone,” “use time to their advantage,” and “employ non-threatening verbal communication and open-ended questions to facilitate the subject’s participation in communication.” A hostage negotiator is also supposed to be used. The officers disregarded all of this and acted on their own. The Court held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. It did not matter that they violated their training. So long as “a reasonable officer could have believed that his conduct was justified.” The officers' possible use of "bad tactics" is not enough to break their immunity. In this case their actions were reasonable.

Rucinski v. County of Oakland, No. 15-1844 (6th Cir. 2016)-Rucinski was mentally ill. He pulled a knife on his girlfriend and demanded cigarettes. She told him where they were. He left the room to get them. She retreated to a bathroom and called the sheriff's department. Deputies responded and found Rucinski in the garage. He removed a switchblade knife from his point and opened it. He said, "Bring it on" and approached Deputy McCann. She pointed her gun at him, backed up, and repeatedly told Rucinski to drop the knife. McCann backed up until she reached the driveway which was iced over. She could not safely retreat onto it. When Rucinski got to within 5ft of her, she fired her gun the same time another deputy fired a taser. Rucinski was killed. Rucinski's family sued for Excessive Use of Force. The family also claimed that the officers either provoked the confrontation or created the cirmcumstances by poor planning that led to the shooting of Rucinski.

The court held: The deputies’ alleged bad tactics are not relevant to the question of whether their decision to use force was intentional. The use of force was reasonable and the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity.