Depending on the nature of the crime and the circumstances of the arrest, it’s not uncommon for police officers to use some amount of force during the process. However, there are stringent laws concerning the amount of force officers may use, and the use of excessive force may be grounds for legal action.
Use of Force Spectrum
The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that police have the right to use “some degree of physical coercion or threat” during arrests or investigative stops. However, police can only use an amount of force that is in proportion to the threat that is present. Police officers are meant to abide by the use of force spectrum, with level one being officer presence, level two being verbal commands, and level three being empty-handed control. If the threat is escalated, police officers may use level four, which is pepper spray, batons, or Tasers. Only the highest of threats should be addressed with lethal force like firearms.
Determining Excessive Use of Force
Because police officers act within a continuum of force, their actions are subjective to the threat level perceived by each officer at the time. Therefore it is up to courts to decide whether excessive force was used or if officers are guilty of assault. If the arrested party believes this to be the case, courts will analyze the severity of the crimes and circumstances, whether the party attempted to flee or resist arrest, and whether the officer was under direct threat at the time of the arrest. Courts will also review whether police officers followed correct protocol, such as issuing warnings before using force.
Suing for Excessive Use of Force
If you believe excessive use of force was used during an arrest, you may have grounds to seek legal recourse against the police officials who conducted the arrest. Although our lawyers are experienced in such cases, the burden of proof generally falls to the plaintiff to prove that the officer used excessive force—meaning they acted out of proportion to the threats or severity of the crime that they perceived. It is important to note that even if you are found guilty of the crime you were arrested for, you may still sue for excessive force.
Because the use of excessive force is such a subjective issue, fighting these cases in court requires attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of the legal system. If you believe that an officer used excessive force during an arrest, especially if it resulted in injury or wrongful death, request your free consultation with Leav & Steinberg LLP by calling us at 212-766-5222 today, or read about our legal results online.