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The Top 3 Factors Used by Courts to Determine Police Misconduct

     There has been much discussion lately regarding police conduct and what standards apply to officers who use deadly force.  Usually, the media only covers the issue of whether a police officer involved in a shooting will be charged criminally.  However, many police shooting cases result in civil lawsuits against the police officer or the city that employs the officer.  Unlike a criminal case, civil cases seek monetary recovery for an alleged wrong.  Medical bills, pain and suffering and other damages are recoverable.  The decision to file a civil lawsuit will often times come after the police officer or city has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.  This partly arises because of the more favorable burden of proof that exists in the civil arena that makes it easier to prove alleged officer misconduct or wrongdoing.  Even though the burden of proof in a civil suit might be more favorable for the victim of a police shooting, there still are factors a civil court or jury uses to determine the appropriateness of a police officer’s decision to use deadly force.      

     In the case Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, (1989), the Supreme Court held that all claims that law enforcement officers used excessive force in the course of an arrest are governed by an "objective reasonableness" standard under the Fourth Amendment. The pertinent inquiry is whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances presented to the officer, without regard to the officer’s underlying intent or motivation.    Application of the objective reasonableness test requires the Court to consider the facts and circumstances of the particular case at hand, including:  

(1)    the severity of the crime at issue;

(2)    whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others;  and

(3)    whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
     The Graham Court emphasized that the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with 20/20 vision of hindsight, and that the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact 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.

     In sum, the Graham factors require that the totality of the circumstances involving the officer’s use of force be reviewed, at least in the civil arena, to determine whether a police officer used excessive force.

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