Recent headline cases involving the shooting of blacks by police officers have raised the question of when police can use deadly force.
In Ferguson, Missouri a police officer killed an unarmed black man. The officer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing but the incident ignited a discussion about the proper use of police force. In South Carolina, a videotape showed a police officer killing an unarmed black suspect who was fleeing.
The Supreme Court Ruling on Permissible Use of Deadly Force
Philadelphia police brutality lawyers know the laws about the use of police deadly force are relatively new. Before 1985, police officers had more authority to use force against fleeing suspects. The old rule was that if the suspect was a felon, or suspected of being a felon, then an officer could fire their weapon if the felon tried to escape.
In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court changed the rule in a case titled Tennessee vs. Garner. In that case, a 15-year old boy was killed by the police while he was fleeing from a burglary. The teenager was not carrying any weapons. The only stolen items were a purse and $10.
The Court held that the police officer was wrong to use deadly force because it violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Justice Byron White wrote the majority opinion and asserted that the balance of catching a fleeing suspected had less priority than “seizing” an unarmed and non-dangerous criminal suspect.
Police officers can now use deadly force on fleeing suspects but only under special circumstances. The suspect who is fleeing must pose a significant threat of death or bodily harm to the police officer or others.
How Should Police Officers Respond to Fleeing Suspects
Each situation is different, but some of the options available to law enforcement are:
- The police officer should use non-physical means to try to capture the suspect.
- The police officer should radio for help from other police officers nearby so they can work together on a non life-threatening strategy to capture the person.
- The officer should determine the suspect’s address and arrest the suspect at the suspect’s residence.
Police also should not fire a warning shot because warning shots often escalate into more shooting and more bodily harm or death.
Philadelphia Police Brutality Lawyers Advocate for People Subject to Police Misconduct
Philadelphia police brutality lawyer, Patrick G. Geckle, fights for victims of police misconduct. Our legal team handles cases of police misconduct, police brutality, wrongful convictions and civil rights violations. We hold police officers accountable for their actions.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of police misconduct or brutality, call us at 215-735-3326 or contact us online. We fight for clients throughout Eastern Pennsylvania including Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County.