Tennessee v. Garner

Tennessee v. Garner Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
471 U.S. 1 (1985)

ISSUE: Is it reasonable for an officer to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon under all circumstances?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • "Prowler inside call" received by police
  • Officer Hymon went around the back of the house and saw Garner fleeing
  • Hymon ordered him to halt, but he didn't, so Hymon shot Garner who later died
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Garner's father brought a 1983 suit
  • Dist. Ct. found that Hymon's actions were authorized by the TN statute and thus constitutional
  • Ct. App. reversed holding that the facts did not justify the use of DF to effect the seizure under the 4th Amdt.
REASONING:
  • Balancing: Use of deadly force is not a sufficiently productive means of accomplishing law enforcement goals to justify the killing of nonviolent suspects
    • Garner's interest: Interest in his life is easily established
    • Govt.'s interest: Effective law enforcement
  • Standard: Where an officer has PC to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force
    • Can't allow the use of DF underall circumstances
  • CL rule doesn't apply: While the CL rule allowed officers to use DF against all fleeing felons, the sweeping changes since those times make reliance upon the rule a mistaken literalism that ignores the purposes of a historical inquiry
    • Almost all felonies at CL were punishable by death
    • Many misdemeanors today are more serious than some felonies
    • Didn't have handguns at CL until later
  • Won't increase crime: No suggest that crime has worsened in any way in jurisdictions that have adopted by legislation or departmental policy rules similar to that announced in this case
DISSENT - O'Connor:
  • Police use of DF falls within rubric of police conduct necessarily involving swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer on the beat
  • Burglaries pose real risks of serious harm to others, thus public interest is of compelling importance
  • Individual can protect his own interest in his life by obeying the order to halt
COMMENTS:
  • The standard for using deadly force is an additional level of probable cause, i.e., probable cause to believe that the fleeing suspect poses a serious threat of physical harm to the officers or others. An officer would not be justified in firing at a fleeing pickpocket, but she could fire at a fleeing murderer.
NOTES:
  • Scott v. Harris: Police hit D's car following a high-speed chase in order to try to force D off the road to end the chase. D was badly injured and become a quadriplegic.
    • Officer's actions were not an unreasonable use of deadly force because of the danger D posed to the public
    • Watch the video of the chase in Scott below.

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