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Understanding the excessive use of force

There is never a time when the police or authorities should use more force than is necessary when making arrests. No one should fear being injured during routine traffic stops, getting pinned to the ground for asking questions or tased for standing up for their rights.

Sadly, there are times when the police do use excessive force. In those cases, people get hurt. Sometimes, people are killed. In the majority of situations, a government official should never use excessive force. However, there are instances during which they may exceed the minimum amount of force necessary.

When can an officer use excessive force?

It's most likely legal if his or her life is in danger of if he or she is directly reacting to protect others from injury or death. When they exceed the force necessary during an arrest, it's often called police brutality. Is it legal? It's dependent on the situation completely.

What is the difference between excessive force and deadly force?

Excessive force is when the authorities go too far and use force that exceeds the level of the perceived threat. Deadly force is when police officers shoot or kill a suspect in the course of their attempt to arrest or stop someone. 

The difference between these two types of force may seem obvious, but it wasn't always so clear. For instance, in the 1980s, a case was brought before the Supreme Court where a teenager in Tennessee with no weapons was shot by the police as he fled. The issue was that a Tennessee state law allowed police to use any means necessary to make an arrest, a loophole that allowed for the incident to occur.

Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court overturned that law and found that unreasonable force had been used. It further determined that in all states, deadly force may only be used in cases where officers believe that the suspect is a threat to him- or herself or others. A good example would be if an officer caught a serial killer attempting to murder someone. The officer would have probable cause to shoot at the alleged murderer if he or she tried to flee because he or she could potentially harm others.

Upholding your civil rights

If you are hurt by a law enforcement officer's excessive and unnecessary use of force, the law is on your side. There are very distinct circumstances in which the authorities have the right to use deadly force or excessive force, and police must be held accountable for any unlawful actions.

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