Excessive force is no joke. Excessive force can range from a shove to a bullet. When police officers use excessive force, they may unnecessarily harm someone, or even kill them. Regardless of the severity of the force used, any excessive force by a police officer is a violation of an individuals’ bodily autonomy guaranteed by the United States Constitution. That’s why there’s no excuse for excessive force. Thankfully, you have a constitutional right against the use of unreasonable force, and you have legal remedies in the event that the police do use it. But what is excessive force?
A police officer who uses more force than is reasonably necessary uses excessive force.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as police department policies, protect citizens from excessive force by police.
In Chicago, the Chicago Police Use of Force Policies govern police conduct. Those policies emphasize “the difficulty of split-second officer decision-making,” and state that standards are based on the conduct of a reasonable officer based on information possessed by the officer.
Force not only needs to be reasonable, but it needs to be reasonable in light of the circumstances. It must also be proportional to an apparent threat.
The Chicago police code also outlines methods for de-escalating conflicts. These tactics ideally will limit police use of force in certain situations.
However, the overarching theme is the reasonableness of the officer’s actions. This stems from the Constitution’s protections against police force.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.“
Police force falls under the “searches and seizures” component of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, police use of force on a civilian is considered a seizure.
Thus, any use of force must be reasonable. In other words, any use of force that is unreasonable is, by definition, excessive force aka Police Brutality.
How do we define unreasonable use of force? That largely depends on the situation as understood by the officer.
Here’s how the courts define it:
An officer’s use of force is unreasonable if, judging from the totality of the circumstances at the time of the arrest, the officer uses greater force than was reasonably necessary to effectuate the arrest…This constitutional inquiry is objective and does not take into account the motives or intent of the individual officers.Phillips v. Cmty. Ins. Corp., 678 F.3d 513, 519-20 (7th Cir. 2012)
For example, tackling a cooperative suspect and using a taser on the suspect despite the suspect posing no threat or resistance would be unreasonable, and thus excessive.
Conversely, if the suspect actively resists arrest, struggles with the officer, and attempts to flee, that changes the analysis. Under those circumstances, tackling and tasing the suspect might very well be seen as justified and reasonable under the circumstances. This is one of several reasons why it’s never a good idea to resist arrest.
Remember, an officer’s job is to protect himself or herself and those around them. The officer may use force as reasonably necessary to ensure that everyone else stays safe, or that they’re able to arrest the suspect. Any threat to others or resistance to arrest may justify some use of force.
The short answer is absolutely not. An officer’s allowable use of force depends on the specific circumstances. Think of it as a sliding scale: the greater the resistance, the more force would be reasonably necessary to make the arrest.
Similarly, if an apparently unarmed suspect takes a fighting stance with an officer — “puts his dukes up”, as they used to say — the officer may be allowed to tackle the suspect, otherwise known as a “takedown”, because the suspect has indicated he will resist the arrest by force.
Under the same circumstances, shooting the suspect who takes a fighting stance (still assuming the suspect appears unarmed) would plainly be excessive, as it is completely disproportionate to the level of the threat.
You should never actively resist an officer. You should always make it as clear as possible that you’re not resisting. Having said that, if you’re being violently assaulted, you have every right to defend yourself by attempting to ward off the punches or kicks, or by moving away. But the minute you start actively fighting back, things will get a lot worse for you.
If you think you have a potential claim against a police officer, you should never hesitate to reach out to a qualified civil rights attorney. An attorney will be able to help you develop a comprehensive legal strategy so that you can be compensated for any wrongful harm done to you. You should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Civil rights claims are subject to unforgiving time limits. If you don’t file in time, you may be barred from filing at all.
Jordan Marsh is an experienced attorney who specializes in civil rights issues. He has years of experience helping clients with their police brutality and police misconduct claims.
Every person who suffers from excessive force by the police deserves to enforce their rights.
Police use of force cases can be tricky to navigate. With an experienced attorney on your team, you can receive maximum compensation for your mistreatment.
If you think you or someone you know may have been a victim of excessive force, false arrest, or any other civil rights violation, contact Chicago civil rights attorney Jordan Marsh for a free consultation at (312) 401-5510, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.