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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Pearly L. Wilson
Richard Seiter et al.
(argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner)
(Assistant Attorney General of Ohio, argued the cause for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

While detained at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, Pearly Wilson claimed he experienced cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Wilson sought financial awards and an injunction against the prison under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He filed suit in a federal district court against two state prison officials, Richard P. Seiter and Carl Humphreys. The District Court ruled against Wilson, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. It held that Wilson had to show that the prison officials had a "culpable state of mind" when inflicting harm upon him.


Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err by holding that prison officials must have a "culpable state of mind" in order to establish cruel and unusual punishment of an inmate? Did the Court of Appeals err by overlooking an inmate's claim that prison officials showed "deliberate indifference" to his conditions of confinement?

Decision: 5 votes for Seiter, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

No and Yes. Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous court. The Court referred to its earlier decisions in Francis v. Resweber and Estelle v. Gamble to establish that cruel and unusual punishment required the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." For this to occur, the prison officials had to exhibit intentional cruelty, which would result in a "culpable state of mind." However, "deliberate indifference" to a prisoner's conditions also constituted abusive treatment according to this standard. Therefore the Court of Appeals should have considered this aspect of Wilson's grievances.

Cite this Page
WILSON v. SEITER. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_7376>.
WILSON v. SEITER, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_7376 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"WILSON v. SEITER," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_7376.