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?
- "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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.