Jail cell heat is unconstitutional, cruel and unusual punishment, attorney argues

Kevin Chase‘s attorney, Katerina Semyonova, requested her client be moved from the D.C. local jail because of the heat.

“He has, under the Fifth Amendment, the right to be held without cruel and unusual punishment,” Semyonova argued in court Tuesday.

The jail unit temperature, recorded Tuesday, was eighty degrees. This is a decrease in temperature from the complaints last Friday, Judge Florence Pan said. That being said, Semyonova argued that the “jail unit” temperature is very different from the “jail cell” temperature. The jail cells are recorded to be anywhere close to 6 or 7 degrees hotter than the jail unit, but the Department of Corrections has refused to take heat readings from inside of them, she said.

The defense requested Chase be transfered to another facility and if that is denied, that specialists be granted access inside of his jail cell to take heat index readings. Semyonova was frustrated that she and her team had not been allowed access inside of the cell to test this information regarding her client’s discomfort. She argued that these spiked temperatures are inhibiting Chase from sleeping or being able to concentrate when making important decisions regarding his trial.

Semyonova argued her client is guaranteed to be held without cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment*, and “this falls far short of that.”

Pan denied the defense’s request for his relocation, based on a medical examination of Chase which said he was ok, and the heat wave was not dangerous to his health. She also denied their request to have a third-party specialist come examine the heat index of Chase’s cell.

Pan argued that by her moving Chase, she may take away the opportunity for the transfer of an inmate that has detrimental health risks in the heat. It has come to her attention that all of the inmates are in extreme discomfort, however, she cannot allow all of them to move, especially the healthy ones, she said.

Chase will join many others suffering from this heat and return to his jail cell that, as of Tuesday, ranges anywhere between eighty and eighty-seven degrees. He will be seen next in court for a status hearing September 23.


*Correction: this article incorrectly said the heat was a violation of a person’s fifth amendment right. It is the eighth amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. 


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