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What is Excessive Use of Force By Police?

In recent years, the issue of excessive police use of force has garnered significant attention in the media and the public eye. Understanding what constitutes excessive force is essential for both citizens and law enforcement officers to ensure accountability and uphold the rule of law. This blog aims to shed light on the definition of excessive force, the legal standards that govern it, and the recourse available to victims of such misconduct.

What is Excessive Use of Force By Police?

What is Excessive Use of Force By Police?

Excessive use of force by police occurs when officers use more physical power than is necessary to control a situation, apprehend a suspect, or protect themselves or others. Determining what constitutes excessive force is often complex and context-dependent, involving an assessment of the severity of the alleged crime, the threat posed by the suspect, and the level of resistance encountered by the officers.

Supreme Court Interpretation of Excessive Force

Excessive force by law enforcement officers is a critical area of constitutional law in the United States. The Supreme Court has established key precedents that define and interpret what constitutes excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Understanding these interpretations is essential for grasping the legal framework that governs police conduct.

The Fourth Amendment and Reasonableness Standard

The Fourth Amendment is the cornerstone of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of excessive force. The Court evaluates claims of excessive force using the “reasonableness” standard, which was solidified in the landmark case of Graham v. Connor (1989).

Graham v. Connor (1989)

In Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court ruled that excessive force claims during an arrest or investigatory stop must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s objective reasonableness standard. This case set several important guidelines:

  • Objective Standard: The reasonableness of an officer’s use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the benefit of hindsight. This is because officers are often required to make split-second decisions in tense and rapidly evolving situations.
  • Totality of Circumstances: The Court emphasized that the evaluation must consider the totality of circumstances, including:
    • The severity of the crime at issue.
    • Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others.
    • Whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight
  • No Fixed Formula: The Court did not establish a precise formula for determining reasonableness, acknowledging that each case must be evaluated based on its unique facts and context.

Tennessee v. Garner (1985)

Prior to Graham v. Connor, another critical case, Tennessee v. Garner (1985), addressed the use of deadly force by law enforcement. The Court ruled that:

  • Deadly Force Limitation: Police may not use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect unless 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.
  • Balancing Interests: The decision balanced the individual’s rights against the government’s interest in effective law enforcement, establishing that the use of deadly force must be necessary and proportional to the threat posed.

Subsequent Interpretations

Following these landmark rulings, the Supreme Court has continued to refine the interpretation of excessive force:

  • Scott v. Harris (2007): In this case, the Court held that a police officer’s attempt to terminate a high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death. The ruling reinforced the importance of the context and the threat posed by the suspect.
  • Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014): The Court ruled that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment by using deadly force to end a dangerous car chase, further solidifying the principles established in Scott v. Harris.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of excessive force centers on the reasonableness standard under the Fourth Amendment, taking into account the specific circumstances faced by law enforcement officers at the time of the incident.

Key cases like Graham v. Connor and Tennessee v. Garner provide the framework for evaluating such claims, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach that considers both individual rights and public safety.

Factors Considered in Determining Excessive Force

Several factors are taken into account when assessing whether the force used by police was excessive:

  • Severity of the Crime: The seriousness of the alleged offense can influence the appropriate force level. More force may be deemed reasonable in response to a violent felony than a minor infraction.
  • Immediate Threat: The perceived threat to officers or bystanders is critical. If the suspect poses an immediate danger, higher levels of force may be justified.
  • Resistance and Evasion: The suspect’s degree of resistance or attempt to flee can also affect the assessment. Officers are generally permitted to use force to prevent escape or overcome resistance.
  • Officer Training and Protocols: The established procedures and training that officers receive play a role in determining what is considered reasonable force. Departures from standard protocols can be indicative of excessive force.
  • Proportionality: The force used must be proportionate to the threat or resistance faced. For instance, using lethal force against an unarmed, non-threatening individual is likely to be deemed excessive.

Signs a NYC Police Officer Used Excessive Force on You

Experiencing police misconduct can be traumatic and confusing. Identifying whether the force used against you was excessive is a critical step in seeking justice and protecting your rights. Here are some signs that a NYC police officer may have used excessive force on you:

Physical Injuries

  • Unexplained or Severe Bruises and Lacerations: While minor injuries can occur during lawful arrests, severe or extensive bruising, cuts, or abrasions might indicate you are a victim of police brutality.
  • Broken Bones: Fractures or broken bones sustained during an encounter with the police can be a clear sign of unnecessary violence.
  • Head Injuries: Concussions or other head injuries, particularly those resulting from being struck by an officer or an object like a baton, are significant indicators of excessive force.
  • Use of Weapons: Injuries from tasers, batons, or firearms, especially if you were unarmed and not posing a threat, are strong signs of excessive force.

Behavioral and Procedural Indicators

  • Unprovoked Aggression: If an officer acts aggressively without provocation, such as shouting threats or using physical force without cause, it might constitute excessive force.
  • Ignoring Compliance: Continue using force after you have complied with orders or are subdued and not resisting.
  • Retaliation for Verbal Disagreement: Using force in response to non-physical resistance, such as questioning an officer’s actions or verbally disagreeing with them.
  • Violation of Protocols: Officers are trained to follow specific protocols. Deviation from these, such as failing to use de-escalation techniques, can signify excessive force.

Psychological Impact

  • Emotional Trauma: Severe emotional distress, anxiety, or PTSD following an encounter with police can indicate that the force used was excessive and traumatic.
  • Fear of Police: A newfound or heightened fear of police officers after the incident might suggest that the encounter was more violent than necessary.

Legal and Procedural Red Flags

  • Lack of Justification: If the officer cannot provide a clear and lawful reason for using force, it might be excessive.
  • Witness Accounts: Eyewitnesses who can testify that the force used was unnecessary or disproportionate can support excessive force claims.
  • Body Camera Footage: Reviewing body cameras or surveillance footage showing the officer’s actions can provide evidence of excessive force.
  • Failure to Provide Medical Aid: Officers are generally required to provide or summon medical assistance if someone is injured during an arrest. Failure to do so can be an additional sign of misconduct.

What To Do After Being a Victim of Police Excessive Force

Experiencing excessive force by the police can be a traumatic and disorienting event. Knowing how to respond and what steps to take afterward is crucial to protect your health, rights, and ability to seek justice. Here are the steps you should follow if you have been a victim of police excessive force:

Immediate Actions

  • Seek Medical Attention: Your health is the top priority. Seek medical attention immediately, even if you do not think your injuries are severe. Medical documentation is crucial for any legal claims you may pursue.
  • Document Your Injuries: Take clear, detailed photographs of all visible injuries as soon as possible. Ensure you capture multiple angles and include close-ups to show the extent of the damage.
  • Preserve Evidence: Keep any clothing or personal items damaged during the incident. Do not wash or alter them, as they may serve as evidence.

Gather Information

  • Witness Information: Collect the contact details of any witnesses who saw the incident. Their accounts can provide valuable support for your case.
  • Police Reports: Request a copy of the police report from the incident. This report will contain the officer’s account of what happened, which can be useful in identifying discrepancies or false statements from the law enforcement agency or officer.
  • Body Camera and Surveillance Footage: If the officer was wearing a body camera or if there was surveillance footage, request access to these recordings. They can provide crucial evidence of the events leading up to, during, and after the incident.

Legal Steps

  • File a Complaint: Submit a formal civil rights complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division or the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). Ensure you keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
  • Consult a Personal Injury Attorney: Victims of police brutality should seek legal advice from a personal injury lawyer experienced in police misconduct cases. We can help you understand your rights, the legal process, and the best course of action.
  • Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all interactions related to the incident, including medical visits, communications with the police, and any legal consultations.

Protect Your Rights

  • Avoid Speaking Without Legal Counsel: Do not discuss the incident with police officers, other than to request medical help, until you have consulted with a civil rights attorney. Anything you say can be used against you.
  • Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with your rights regarding police conduct and the use of force. Understanding your rights can empower you to take the appropriate actions and protect yourself legally.
  • Follow Up: Stay in contact with your excessive force attorney and follow their advice. Keep track of any deadlines and required actions related to your complaint and potential lawsuit.

Long-Term Considerations

  • Mental Health: Experiencing excessive force can be traumatic. Consider seeking counseling or support to help deal with any emotional or psychological effects.
  • Physical Rehabilitation: Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might need ongoing medical treatment or physical therapy. Ensure you follow through with all recommended treatments.
  • Legal Resolution: Be prepared for the legal process to take time. Stay informed about the progress of your case and maintain communication with your legal team.

How a Police Brutality Lawyer Can Help

A police brutality lawyer can help individuals who have been victims of excessive force by police officers in a number of ways. Here are some ways in which a police brutality lawyer can assist:

Legal Representation

A police brutality lawyer can provide legal representation for individuals who have experienced excessive force by police officers.We can help clients navigate the legal system and pursue justice for the harm they have suffered.


A police brutality lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation into the incident, gathering evidence such as witness statements, video footage, and police reports to build a strong case against the officers involved.


A police brutality lawyer will advocate on behalf of their clients, fighting for their rights and seeking accountability for the actions of the officers responsible for the excessive force.

Civil Rights Violations

Police brutality lawyers are well-versed in civil rights laws and can determine if their client’s constitutional rights were violated during the incident. We can help clients file civil rights claims against the officers and law enforcement agencies involved.

Negotiation and Settlement

In some cases, a police brutality lawyer may be able to negotiate a settlement with the responsible parties outside of court, saving time and money for their clients while still ensuring they receive compensation for their damages.

Court Representation

If a case goes to court, a police brutality lawyer will represent their client during legal proceedings, presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making arguments to support their client’s claims.

Overall, a police brutality lawyer can provide essential support and guidance to individuals who have been victims of excessive force by police officers, helping them seek justice and hold accountable those responsible for violating their rights.

Need Legal Help? Contact Us Today!

If you or a loved one has experienced excessive force by police, don’t navigate this complex issue alone. Contact the experienced civil rights lawyers at Sivin, Miller & Roche, LLP for a free consultation. We are dedicated to fighting for justice and ensuring your rights are protected. Reach out now to take the first step towards holding those responsible accountable.




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