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Getting beaten up in a city’s drunk tank is a risk inebriated folks are going to have to accept. On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state’s government code immunizes cities and counties from liability for any injury to a prisoner. The decision overturns Santa Ana’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, which had upheld an award of more than $175,000 to Craig Teter, who was severely beaten by a jail mate in 1997 in a Newport Beach jail. The appeal court had ruled that Teter was under civil detention, not imprisonment, and, therefore, the government code didn’t apply. The Fourth District also said a contrary ruling could discourage cities from providing detoxification facilities that are separate from the main jail. While that might be sound public policy, the high court held Monday, “it is not for the courts, but rather for those exercising legislative authority at the state or county level, to make that policy judgment.” Justice Janice Rogers Brown authored the ruling, with concurrences by Chief Justice Ronald George and Justices Marvin Baxter and Ming Chin. Justice Joyce Kennard wrote a separate concurring opinion saying she agreed with the majority, but not in its choice to use the ruling to disapprove Meyer v. City of Oakland, 107 Cal.App.3d 770, a 1980 First District ruling that said an arrestee being held in jail pending transfer to a civil detoxification facility is not a prisoner under the terms of the state’s government code. Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos Moreno concurred with Kennard. The case is Teter v. City of Newport Beach, 03 C.D.O.S. 3557.

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