Many people who have not had pleasant interactions with the police wonder if they have had excessive force used against them. Here we will clarify the laws behind the use of excessive force.
What is Excessive Force?
Excessive force refers to situations where government officials legally entitled to use force exceed the minimum amount necessary to diffuse an incident or to protect themselves or others from harm. This can come up in different contexts, such as when handling prisoners or even during military operations. When it involves law enforcement, especially during an arrest, it’s also referred to as police brutality. The constitutional right to be free from excessive force is found in the reasonable search and seizure requirement of the Fourth Amendment and the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment.
Along with deferring to a law enforcement reasonableness standard, courts can also grant officers qualified immunity. This protects public officials from civil liability for violations of rights so long as they were reasonably performing their duties and the rights involved were not “clearly established.” In excessive force cases, qualified immunity can protect police officers in more ambiguous situations where there is a “hazy border between excessive and acceptable force.” However, to benefit from this immunity officials would need to show that a reasonable person in their position would not have known that their actions violated clearly established law.
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