As citizens, we depend on police and law enforcement to protect our rights and personal safety. We expect them to treat us fairly and with respect as human beings even when we are accused or suspected of wrongdoing. Officers of the law are held to a high standard of behavior as they are entrusted with a wide birth of authority in the commission of their duties to the public. When police break their agreement to act in a responsible manner and use excessive force in a situation, they damage the public connection, endanger the lives and well-being of their victim and themselves, and cost the county money in administrative and legal proceedings.
Objectively Reasonable Physical Force
Police and law enforcement officers of all type are trained to use a reasonable amount of physical force to subdue and apprehend a subject. Graham V. Connor (490 U.S. 386), a 1989 Supreme Court case, allotted one of the milestone decisions pertaining to law enforcement use of force. It created a national standard still used today. SCOTUS clearly stated the use of force by law enforcement on private citizens will be evaluated as a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This includes use of force that is deadly or nondeadly. Every arrest, course of arrest, investigatory stop and any seizure of a private citizen are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s objective reasonableness standard as opposed to a substantive due process standard. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects American citizens against unreasonable search and seizure by the U.S. government and its agents. One of the important precedent set forth by Graham V. Connor is the understanding that police make the decision to use force and how much to use in a split-second during a rapidly evolving and potentially life-threatening situation.
Officer of the law can take things too far during the commission of duties. Using excessive force means the officer used more force than necessary to do the job at hand. It supposes that another objective, trained and competent officer would have exerted less force in the same situation. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation exerts no amount of force can be used for punishment, discipline or retaliation. Unnecessary force and excessive force are legally two different situations. Unnecessary force is when an officer is a bit rougher than the situation calls for to obtain custody, compliance or cooperation from a suspect. Excessive force is use of force that is very rough and not at all called for in the situation. Other types of force used by enforcement include deadly force, non-deadly force and great bodily injury, which is force which causes injury so great it threatens the person’s life.
Alternatives to Force
Police are also trained in several Use of Force Options that can be employed in the stead of physical force. These include:
- Verbal persuasion and talking
- Chemical restraints
- Physical holds
- Mechanical restraints
- Less lethal weapons and rubber bullets
Law enforcement officers are expected to use these less lethal tactics when needed and forgo the use of force unless positively needed. The availability of all other options will be addressed in any case pertaining to an officer’s use of excessive force. Each verdict is determined by the court in a case-by-case basis but the same variables are always taken into account including:
- Threat posed by the suspect
- Severity of the crime committed
- If the suspect resisted or attempted to flee
Police overstepping their boundaries, acting impulsively or out of anger and using bullying and aggressive tactics has come into the public eye more recently. The private citizen no longer feels powerless to take their life back after a violent encounter with police. Winning a case of excessive force against the police department is a challenging endeavor and one that cannot be effective without the help of an attorney specializing in such areas with a track record of successful similar cases. The first step to winning your life back is to hire the right attorney.