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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decided a second Indiana case yesterday, re self-defense in prison

In USA v. Joshua Waldman (SD Ind., Magnus-Stinson), a 10-page opinion, Judge Williams writes:

Inmate Joshua Waldman was convicted of forcibly assaulting a correctional officer after head‐ butting him during an argument about a pat‐down search. He advanced a self‐defense argument at trial, but was unsuccessful. On appeal, he argues that the district court erred in holding that there needed to be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm before he could justifiably use force in self‐ defense. We agree. Requiring that an inmate fear serious bod‐ ily harm or death before using force to protect himself is in‐ consistent with both the Eighth Amendment and common law principles justifying the use of self‐defense. But we find no clear error in the district court’s finding that Waldman had a legal alternative to force in complying with the pat‐down. So we affirm Waldman’s conviction because he failed to prove at least one of the required components of his defense. * * *

[A. Self‐Defense under 18 U.S.C. § 111 ]

Under the federal definition of “serious bodily harm,” without a substantial risk of death, ex‐ treme physical pain, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss of the function of a bodily member, organ or mental faculty, inmates would risk further incarceration if they tried to resist such abuse. See 18 U.S.C. § 1365 (h)(3) (de‐ fining “serious bodily harm”). In the midst of enduring abuse by officials, prisoners should not be expected to calculate whether the requisite disfigurement or loss of bodily function will come to pass before acting to protect themselves. Such a result is not consistent with the Eighth Amendment, and would “give prison officials free reign to maliciously and sa‐ distically inflict psychological torture on prisoners, so long as they take care not to inflict any physical injury in the process.” Calhoun, 319 F.3d at 940. Under common law principles, re‐ quiring the threat of serious bodily injury or death certainly might be appropriate for use of lethal force in self‐defense, see, e.g., United States v. White Feather, 768 F.3d 735, 740 (7th Cir. 2013). But in a case where a prisoner is simply acting to stop abuse completely untethered to official discipline, which can only be interpreted as sadistic, malicious, and intended to cause harm, she is entitled to act in self‐defense. And while Congress clearly intended to protect correctional officers from harm in passing 28 U.S.C. § 111, that purpose must be harmo‐ nized with Eighth Amendment protections, not supersede them.

B. No Error in Finding Waldman Had Reasonable Legal Alternative to Using Force

In addition to showing that the force threatened against them violated the Eighth Amendment, inmate‐defendants have other hurdles to mount. They must prove that the un‐ lawful use of force against them was imminent, and that they had no reasonable legal alternatives to using force in self‐de‐ fense. United States v. Haynes, 143 F.3d 1089, 1092 (7th Cir. 1998). The district court correctly evaluated whether Wald‐ man had reasonable legal alternatives to striking Buescher, which was a required element of his defense. While we are very dubious that Buescher used or threatened any force which violated the Eighth Amendment, we can affirm Wald‐ man’s conviction solely based on the district court’s finding that he did not avail himself of legal alternatives to assaulting Buescher.

Waldman could have simply submitted to Buescher’s search—which no one is arguing was itself a violation of Waldman’s constitutional rights—instead of escalating the sit‐ uation into a physical fight. * * *

For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM Waldman’s convic‐ tion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 31, 2016 09:00 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions