This article now turns on how an arrest should be conducted, particularly when subjects resist the arrest.

Tennessee v. Garner

471 U.S. 1 (1985).


Whether the officers can use deadly force to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon.


Deadly force may not be used unless there is probable cause that the subject is going to b a significant threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others. The significant threat arises (1) in the commission of a violent crime, (2) suspect threatens the officer with a weapon. A warning must also be provided to the subject if feasible.


There was no probable cause, remanded for further proceedings.


The officers responded to a call at a home late in the evening. When they arrived, they heard a house door slam and went to the backyard. There they found the subject running to the fence. The officers identified themselves and told him to stop. There was no indication the subject was armed. When the subject did not stop fleeing, the officer fired to prevent the continued flight. The bullet ended up killing the subject.


The courts must balance the interest of the subject and the interest of the state. First, the subject has an interest in preserving their life. Second, the state has an interest in preventing crime. This interest increases with the severity of the crime being committed. Thus, more violent crimes could potentially mean the use of deadly force. Here, however, the use of deadly force was uncalled for because it appeared the subject was unarmed.

The Court also considers the historic common law rule that any force necessary to prevent a felony crime was permitted. Ultimately, they reason that the justifications do not fit into society today (guns were used differently at the founding of the Fourth Amendment, and crimes are generally not punishable by death anymore).

Finally, the majority considered current police practices. At the time of the ruling, the vast majority of the police agencies do not use the common law rule

On the other hand, the dissent argues this new rule creates a protection (freedom of flight from committing a crime) that is not afforded by the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the rule limits officers ability to act in the moment. In the present case, the decision made by the majority is benefited by hindsight, and is an attempt to remedy a regrettable situation.

Additional Notes

The above outlines the rule for when deadly force may be applied. However, there are also rules for when excessive force is to be limited. These are often provided by state legislatures and police departments seeking to reform police efforts and reduce unnecessary force.

Scott v. Harris

550 U.S. 372 (2007).


Was this deadly force?


The officer’s use of force is fine if they are objectively reasonable. The court will consider:

  • Safety of others on the road
  • How dangerous the use of force is (less so here because death is not automatic)
  • Whether the subject is culpable for the danger

The officer clocked the subject as speeding going nearly 20 over the designated speed limit. When the officer attempted to pull him over, the subject sped up and a high speed chase ensued. Eventually, the officer attempted to perform a PIT maneuver (with permission). Unfortunately, the result of the maneuver resulted in a crash causing sever injuries.

The subject is now suing, saying that the officer used deadly force.


This case is not an example of deadly force. Using the factors above, the use of force was reasonable. Otherwise, this would incentivize more dangerous driving.

However, the dissent argues the car drive was not threatening to other parties (minimal traffic at the time), thus this should be a question for the jury, not summary judgment.

Additional Notes

Buckley v. Haddock – high deference for the police to determine what is reasonable. Ultimately, the interest of ensuring the effectiveness of an arrest has high weight.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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