• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that a police officer may use deadly force only when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect poses an immediate threat of death or physical harm to the officer or to others.

In 1974 a fifteen-year-old boy, Edward Garner, broke a window to enter an unoccupied house in Memphis, Tennessee. Two officers intercepted the suspect in the back of the house. By shining a flashlight, the officers were “reasonably sure” that the suspect was young and unarmed. When he was about to escape over a fence, one of the officers shot him in the back. The officer had acted in accordance with Tennessee’s fleeing felon statute, which authorized all means necessary to stop a suspected felon. The decedent’s father, nevertheless, won a damage award against the officers and the city.Use of force;Tennessee v. Garner[Tennessee v. Garner]

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court struck down the relevant portion of the Tennessee law. In the majority opinion, Justice Byron R. WhiteWhite, Byron R.;Tennessee v. Garner[Tennessee v. Garner] wrote that apprehending a suspect “is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.” The majority found no reasonable justification for officers to use deadly force against a suspect who did not appear to be armed and dangerous. After the Garner decision was issued, half of the states had laws that were unconstitutional because of a lack of restraint on the use of force while attempting to arrest a nondangerous suspect.

Due process, procedural

Fourth Amendment

Ker v. California

Categories: History