Police officers are allowed to use reasonable force in the course of their duty when detaining or apprehending an individual. The Fourth Amendment states that every search and seizure must be reasonable and without excessive force. However, reasonable force is hard to define; every situation is different and it can be hard to gauge what amount of force is actually reasonable and not excessive. Typically, police officers employ the technique of continuum of force. Continuum of force is the natural progression of force in responding to resistance ranging from verbal warnings to the use of deadly force. However, after the widespread adoption of Tasers, police officers were given a non-lethal option in order to avoid the use of excessive force.
Police officers use Tasers as a non-lethal tool to use to subdue suspects. Tasers shoot metal prongs attached to wires leading back to the Taser, into an individual. Upon triggering the Taser, high voltage electricity pulses through the wires and into the suspect, rendering the suspect incapable of moving and incapacitating them. Tasers are a non-lethal alternative to using other weapons available to officers. However, Tasers are capable of lethal consequences.
Upon recent widespread use of Tasers, there have been over 300 cases of individuals dying and countless injuries sustained. The repeated use also increases the risk of severe injury. There have been thousands of cases of police officers using Tasers in situations where the suspect has already been subdued or is not resisting, thus producing claims of excessive force by police officers. A groundbreaking case regarding Tasers is Bryan v. MacPherson. In that case The police pulled over a suspect for a seat belt violation. The police officer Tasered the suspect, causing him to be seriously injured. The court ruled that the police officer’s actions constituted excessive force. This case laid the groundwork for many of the future cases involving Tasers and excessive force.
If you believe that you have been the victim of unreasonable force, you can bring a civil claim for the use of excessive force against the police. This claim falls under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 where an individual can bring a claim against:
“[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and [the] laws.”
Therefore, in order to satisfy a § 1983 claim, the following elements must be proven:
a) A “person”;
b) Acting under “color of law”;
c) Deprived another person of a constitutional right.
Under the first element, it must be proved that an individual person, typically a police officer or another governmental official, acted against the victim. Under the second element, this person must have been enforcing a law or acting in their official capacity. Finally, under the third element, the person’s actions must have deprived or violated a known constitutional right of the individual.
One potential problem for a § 1983 claim is the qualified immunity exception for public or governmental officials. The general rule is that government officials or employees are immune from lawsuits against them when they act in their official capacity. This is necessary because if police officers had to constantly worry about being liable for their actions in going about their job, it would prevent their ability to protect and to serve. However, qualified immunity is not available where a government official acts with “deliberate indifference” to an individual’s constitutional rights. This can sometimes be described as an act or actions that are so “shocking to the conscience” as to be manifestly and grossly unjust.
Because of the qualified immunity exception, the success of most § 1983 claims turns on how extreme the actions of the police or other governmental officials were. In general, the more severe their actions, the better the chance of success on a § 1983 claim is. However, this generally seems to prevent bringing a claim against the police or a governmental official who may have stepped over the line of excessive force, but not in a manner that is “deliberately indifferent” or “shocks the conscience.”
If you believe that you have been the victim of excessive force by police, do not hesitate to Contact Us at Minick Law for a free consultation about your potential §1983 claim.
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James Minick is a criminal defense attorney in Asheville, NC and is the owner of Minick Law, P.C.