Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 13 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 825 (1994)

Opinion of the Court

law, however, generally permits a finding of recklessness only when a person disregards a risk of harm of which he is aware. See R. Perkins & R. Boyce, Criminal Law 850-851 (3d ed. 1982); J. Hall, General Principles of Criminal Law 115-116, 120, 128 (2d ed. 1960) (hereinafter Hall); American Law Institute, Model Penal Code 2.02(2)(c), and Comment 3 (1985); but see Commonwealth v. Pierce, 138 Mass. 165, 175-178 (1884) (Holmes, J.) (adopting an objective approach to criminal recklessness). The standards proposed by the parties in this case track the two approaches (though the parties do not put it that way): petitioner asks us to define deliberate indifference as what we have called civil-law recklessness,5 and respondents urge us to adopt an approach consistent with recklessness in the criminal law.6

We reject petitioner's invitation to adopt an objective test for deliberate indifference. We hold instead that a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes to dis-5 See Reply Brief for Petitioner 5 (suggesting that a prison official is deliberately indifferent if he "knew facts which rendered an unreasonable risk obvious; under such circumstances, the defendant should have known of the risk and will be charged with such knowledge as a matter of law"); see also Brief for Petitioner 20-21.

6 See Brief for Respondents 16 (asserting that deliberate indifference requires that a prison "official must know of the risk of harm to which an inmate is exposed").


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