The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not 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.
Appellee brought suit against appellant city and appellant police department for violation of his son’s constitutional right who was shot dead by a police officer upon trying to escape the scene of burglary even though he did not appear to be armed. The trial court dismissed the action, stating that a Tennessee statute allows a police officer to use all necessary means to effect an arrest where a suspect fled or forcibly resisted after being notified of the intent to arrest. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the statute violated the Fourth Amendment. The State intervened via certiorari.
Is a statute authorizing a police officer to use all necessary means in effecting an arrest unconstitutional?
The apprehension of a suspect is a seizure for the purposes of the Constitution and the use of deadly force to achieve a seizure is only permitted under certain circumstances. The Fourth Amendment allows the use of deadly force to apprehend felons who the police have probable cause to believe are dangerous to them or to the public. The shooting of appellee's son, who was a suspect in a burglary, was not an acceptable use of deadly force.