Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

Garner v. Tennessee Case

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A case in which the court ruled that a Tennessee “fleeing felon” law was unconstitutional because it legalize the use of deadly force by police when a suspect poses no immediate threat to the police or others. The court ruled that the use of deadly force was a Fourth Amendment seizure issue subject to a finding of “ reasonableness. ”

Father, whose unarmed son was shot by police officer as son was fleeing from the burglary of an unoccupied house, brought wrongful death action under the federal civil right statute against the police officer who fired the shot, the police department and others. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Harry W. Wellford, J. , after remand, rendered judgement for defendant, and father appealed. The Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, and remanded. Certiorari was granted.

The Supreme Court held that: apprehension by use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement; deadly force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others; Tennessee statute under authority of which police officer fired fatal shot was unconstitutional because it authorized use of deadly force against apparently unarmed, non dangerous fleeing suspect; the fact that unarmed suspect had broken into a dwelling at night did not automatically mean that he was dangerous. At about 10:45 p. m. on October 3, 1974, Memphis Police Officers Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright were dispatched to answer a prowler inside call.

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The fleeing suspect, who was appellee-respondent’s decedent, Edward Garner, stopped at a 6-feet-high chain link fence at the edge of he yard. With the aid of a flashlight, Hymon was able to see Garner’s face and hands. He saw no sign of weapon, and, though not certain, was reasonably sure and figured that Garner was unarmed, He thought Garner was 17 or 18 years of age and about 5’5’’ or 5’7’’ tall. While Garner was crouched at the fence, Hymon called out Police! and took a few steps toward him. Garner then began to climb over the fence. Convinced that if Garner made it over the fence he would ran away, Hymon shot him.

The bullet hit Garner in the back of the head. Garner was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounce dead on the operating table. Ten dollars and a purse taken from the house were found on his body. In using deadly force to prevent the escape , Hymon was acting under the authority of a Tennessee statute and pursuant to Police Department policy. The statute provides that “ if, after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, he either flee, or forcibly resist, the officer may use all necessary means to affect the arrest. ” The District Court concluded that Hymon’s action were authorized by the Tennessee statute, which in turn was constitutional.

Hymon had employed the only reasonable and practicable means of preventing Garner’s escape. Garner had recklessly and unmindfully attempted to jump over the fence to escape, thereby assuming the responsibility to be risk of being fired upon. The Court of Appeals for Six Circuit affirmed with regard to Hymon, finding that he had acted in good-faith according to the Tennessee statute and was therefore within the scope of his qualified immunity. It remanded for reconsideration of the possible liability of the city, however. Justice White then delivered the opinion of the by saying “ This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon.

We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is deemed necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the killing of a fleeing suspect is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and is therefore constitutional only if reasonable. The Tennessee statute failed as applied to this case because it did not adequately limit the use of deadly force by distinguishing between felonies of different magnitudes. The facts as found, did not justify the use of deadly force under the Fourth Amendment.

Officer cannot resort to deadly force unless they have probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a felony and poses a threat to the safety of the officers or a danger to the community if left on the loose. The State of Tennessee, which had intervened to defend the statute, appealed to this court. The city filed for petition for certiorari. Whenever an officer restrain the freedom of a person to walk away, he has seized that person. While it is not always clear just when minimal police interference become a seizure, there can be no question that apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

A police officer may arrest a person if he has probable cause to believe that person committed a crime. Petitioner and appellant argued that if this requirement is satisfied, the Fourth Amendment has nothing to say about how that seizure is made. This submission ignores the many cases in which this Court, by balancing the extent of the intrusion against the need for it, has examined the reasonableness of the manner in which a search or seizure is conducted. To determine the constitutionality of a seizure “we must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interest against the importance of the government interest alleged to justify the intrusion.”

Because one of the factors is the extent of the intrusion, it is plain that reasonableness depends on not only when a seizure is made, but also how it is carried out. Notwithstanding probable cause to seize a suspect, an officer may not always do so by killing him. The intrusiveness of a seizure by means of deadly force is unmatched. The suspect‘ s fundamental interest in his own life need not be elaborated upon. The use of deadly force also frustrate the interest of the individual, and of society, in judicial determination of guilt and punishment. Against these interests are ranged governmental interest in effective law enforcement. It is argued that overall violence will be reduced by encouraging the peaceful submission of suspects who know that they may be shot if they flee.

Effectiveness in making arrest requires the resort to deadly force, or at least the meaningful threat thereof. Being able to arrest such individuals is a condition precedent to the state’s entire system of law enforcement. ” Without in any way disparaging the importance of these goals, we are not such convinced that the use of deadly force is sufficiently productive means of accomplishing them of justify the killing of nonviolent suspects. The use of deadly force is a self-defeating way of apprehending threat of deadly force might be thought to lead to the arrest of more live suspects by discouraging escape attempts, the presently available evidence doe not support this thesis.

The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspect, whatever the circumstances, is unconstitutionally unreasonable. It is no better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot doe not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non dangerous suspect by shooting him dead. The Tennessee statute in unconstitutional because as it authorizes the use of deadly force against such fleeing suspects.

It is not, however, unconstitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon of there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if where feasible, some warning has been given. As applied in such circumstances, the Tennessee statute would pass constitutional muster. We do not deny the practical difficulties of attempting to assess the suspect’s dangerousness. However, similarly difficult judgement must be made by the police in equally uncertain circumstances.

Nor is there any indication that the States that allow the use of deadly force only against dangerous suspects, the standard has been difficult to apply os has led to a rash of litigation involving inappropriate second-guessing of police officers‘ split-second decisions. Moreover, the highly technical felony or misdemeanor distinction is equally, if not more, difficult to apply in the field. And officer is no position to know, for example, the precise value of property stolen, or whether the crime was a first or second offense. Finally, as noted above, this claim must be viewed with suspicion in light of the similar self-imposed limitations of so many police department.

The District Court concluded that Hymon was justified in shooting Garner because state law allows, and the Federal Constitution does not forbid the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing felony suspect if no alternative means of apprehension is available. This conclusion made a determination of Garner’s apparent dangerousness unnecessary. The court did find, however, that Garner appeared to be unarmed, though Hymon could not be certain that was the case. Restated in Fourth Amendment terms, this means Hymon had no articulable basis to think Garner was armed. In reversing, the Court of Appeals accepted the District Court’s factual conclusions and held that the facts, as found, did not justify the use of deadly force. Officer Hymon could not reasonably believed that Garner posed any threat.

Indeed, Hymon never attempted to justify his action on any basis other than the need to prevent an escape. Hymon did not have probable cause to believe that Garner, whom he correctly believed to be unarmed posed any physical danger to himself or others. The judgement of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, and the case is remanded for further proceeding consistent with this opinion. As stated in the concept paper, in the killing of Miriam Carey by Washington DC Police. The Tennessee v. Garner case can be used as precedent in justifying the use of deadly force while she was fleeing. Where he reckless driving in attempt to flee the scene can be consider as immediate threat to the police officers and the others.

Garner v. Tennessee Case essay

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