Excessive force is the use of more force than is reasonably necessary to arrest a suspect.  Examples of excessive force can include:

  • Physical force against a suspect already in custody and not resisting
  • The usage of a weapon against a suspect who is not armed and who the officers have no reason to suspect is armed
  • The use or threat of force to intimidate witnesses or suspects into providing information or confessions
  • Repeated use of force or a weapon when a suspect is already subdued

How much Force is Reasonable?

The amount of force that can be used depends on the circumstances of the arrest. These circumstances can include:

  • The severity of the alleged crime
  • Whether the suspect poses a direct threat
  • Whether the suspect is resisting arrest

Many police departments require that officers use the least amount of force necessary to make the arrest.

Can I bring an Excessive Force Claim against the Arresting Officer?

Yes, if an officer is guilty of using excessive force, he can be prosecuted under both state and federal criminal laws. However, you may have a difficult time winning a suit because:

  • Unless there is video footage, it will be your story against the officer’s story. Police officers generally have more credibility than the people they arrest.
  • To bring a suit of excessive force, you have to have suffered a significant injury. Even if you suffered a significant injury, if the officer can establish that the use of force was reasonable, your lawsuit will not succeed.

Is the Use of Pepper Spray or Tasers Considered Excessive Force?

Excessive force is based on the overuse of force and power on the part of the police, not the weapons they use. The use of pepper spray or taser guns to subdue suspects is considered excessive force if their use was unreasonable for the situation.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for police to use such weapons as they are typically “non-lethal”, at least in comparison to actual firearms. However, the use of pepper spray and/or tasers can have unexpected consequences for people who have pre-existing conditions, conditions which cannot be seen by police before the use of tasers or pepper spray. These conditions can include heart attacks or nerve disorders.

Ironically, the use of these “non-lethal” weapons can result in a wrongful death or miscarriage in pregnancy. This is especially likely to happen when the officers abuse the weapons by using them repeatedly, even when the suspect has already been restrained.

What about the Use of Excessive Force When Executing Warrants?

When executing search or arrest warrants, police are still obligated to use the minimal amount of force required to carry out the order. This is especially crucial because when police enter a home, they may encounter other residents, including small children, who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing committed by the suspect.

Excessive force while enforcing warrants follow the same rules as excessive force in other circumstances. The police must not use any force beyond what is reasonably necessary, given the severity of the crime, whenever the residents are armed and/or resisting the warrant. In addition, carrying out a warrant is often pre-planned, so police ought to have more control over the situation. Using a dozen officers to conduct a search of a small apartment for a minor drug violation is both excessive and a waste of police resources. Likewise, the usage of flash-bangs or other weapons are limited by the cooperation of the residents inside.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

If you believe you are the victim of the use of excessive force, you should speak to a criminal lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.