Tennessee v. Garner

Facts

Police were called to intercept a burglary in progress.  When they arrived the deceased was seen fleeing the scene.  The shooting police officer admitted to having seen no weapon on the deceased, and ordered him to stop.  The deceased continued fleeing and attempted to leap over a fence and was shot by the officer in the process.  The district court held that his acts were constitutional.  The court of appeals reversed.

Relevant Statute

“…after a police officer has given notice of an intent to arrest a criminal suspect, the suspect flees or forcibly resists, “the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.”

Issue

Whether an armed officer can constitutionally use deadly force to prevent escape of an unarmed felon.

Holding

No.  The officer does have the authority to shoot at a fleeing suspect when the officer reasonably believes that the escapee poses a threat to the safety of others.  An officer with probable cause has the authorization to seize a suspect, but he may not always do so by killing or lethal force.  But the officer in this case could not have reasonably believed that the deceased posed such a threat to justify lethal force.  The current rule that lethal force is justified in apprehending felons is outdated.  Many felonies are what used to be misdemeanors and are such that their commission displays no justification for the use of deadly force.  Moreover, the officer’s own police department rules stipulate that violent force is only to be used to prevent the escape of violent felons.

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