The Law School Authority

Tennessee v. Garner Case Brief

Summary of Tennessee v. Garner

U. S. S. Ct 1985

Public Authority

Relevant Facts: At about 10:45 p.m. Officers were dispatched to answer a “prowler inside call.” Upon arriving at the scene they saw a woman standing on her porch and gesturing toward the adjacent house. She told them she had heard glass breaking and that “they” or “someone” was breaking in next door. Officers heard a door slam and saw someone run across the backyard. The fleeing suspect, Garner, stopped at a chain link fence. With the aid of a flashlight cops saw no sign of a weapon, and, though not certain, was “reasonably sure” and “figured” that Garner was unarmed.  While Garner was crouched at the base of the fence, police called out “police, halt” 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 elude capture, cop shot him. The bullet hit Garner in the back of the head, and he died. Ten dollars and a purse taken from the house were found on his body.

Legal Issue(s): Whether Tennessee statute under authority of which police officer fired fatal shot was unconstitutional insofar as it authorized use of deadly force against apparently unarmed, nondangerous fleeing suspect?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure:  The U S D Ct after remand, rendered judgment for dfs, and father appealed. The Ct of App  reversed and remanded Judgment of Ct of App affirmed and case remanded.

Law or Rule(s): The right of the people to be secure in their persons … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….

Tenn St. If, after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, he either flee or forcibly resist, the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.

Court Rationale:   D Force may be used to prevent escape when 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. This statute section is invalid because it does not put sufficient limits on the use of deadly force; it is too disproportionate, and it does not make distinctions based on gravity and need nor on the magnitude of the offense. Whenever an officer restrains the freedom of a person to walk away, he has seized that person.  The suspect's fundamental interest in his own life need not be elaborated upon. The use of deadly force also frustrates the interest of the individual, and of society, in judicial determination of guilt and punishment. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. The fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Apprehension by use of deadly force is a “seizure” subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Defendant’s Argument:  A police officer may arrest a person if he has probable cause to believe that person has committed a crime.

MPC - The use of deadly force is not justifiable … unless (i) the arrest is for a felony; and (ii) the person effecting the arrest is authorized to act as a peace officer; or is assisting a person whom he believes to be authorized to act as a peace officer, and (iii) the actor believes that the force employed creates no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons; and (iv) the actor believes that (1) the crime for which the arrest is made

involved conduct including the use or threatened use of deadly force; or (2) there is a substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily harm if his apprehension is delayed.

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