Excessive force claims are reviewed under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard. The question is whether the officer’s conduct is objectively reasonable in light of the facts confronting the officer. In this respect, the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the vision of hindsight.
This task is not always easy. Determining whether force used during a seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires balancing the nature of the intrusion on the individual’s interests against the governmental interests. Among circumstances that courts will look at include the severity of the suspected crime, and whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of others. Also relevant is whether the suspect is resisting arrest. Other considerations include (1) the need to apply force, (2) the relationship between this need and the force used, (3) the injury inflicted, and (4) whether the officer acted in good faith.
Some situations where courts have recognized viable excessive-force claims include:
- Tasers. A court has found a violation where an officer repeatedly “tasered” a person who was not suspected of a crime, was not an immediate threat to anyone, who did not resist the officers, and who ultimately died after the taser shocks.
- Physical violence against handcuffed suspects. Courts have found violations where an officer has shoved a person onto a car hood, punched a suspect in the stomach or face, or slammed a suspect into a concrete structure. These suspects were handcuffed and, even if suspected of having committed misdemeanors, posed no risk of danger or flight, and offered no physical resistance.
- Pepper Spray: A court has found a violation where officers beat a suspect and then bent his arm, applying pepper spray to a misdemeanor arrestee who was not an immediate threat to anyone, and who did not resist the officers.
The “reasonableness” standard that evaluates the use of force from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene (rather than with hindsight) understands that reasonable officers may sometimes incorrectly guess the seriousness of a threat. This standard of reasonableness recognizes that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.
We know how to get results for these types of claims.
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