Are the Police Violating the Law When Tasering an Unarmed Citizen?
This is a question already answered by the courts. but the courts never give a simple “yes” or “no” answer when considering questions of Constitutional rights and how far law enforcement may go. The responses from the courts are always qualified with explanation. This is a topic that falls under what police officers may or may not do while a suspect is in custody, is being taken into custody, or is otherwise under the supervision of law enforcement, such as in prison. It requires more than a “yes” or “no” response.
Police brutality and unnecessary use of force have been addressed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Most cases do not go that high to be resolved when a charge of tasering or use of unnecessary force is made against an officer of the law by a citizen as precedent has been set. Supreme Court precedent is a rule that must be followed by all other courts.
As in other cases addressed by this nation’s court system, the Constitution and its Amendments come in for applying the rule of law. The question would be asked, “Was it…the use of force… reasonable?” Was the use of the taser reasonable? How can this question be answered? Finding an answer to whether it was “reasonable” to use the taser will answer whether it was a violation of the law for the taser to be used. Citizens are guaranteed, by the wording of the Fourth Amendment, that no law enforcement officer or representative of government will seize them without it being a lawful, reasonable seizure. This guarantee includes the use of force in making the seizure.
The Courts have ruled that when a citizen is being arrested, “seized” and/or searched, law enforcement officers may use force to accomplish this seizure and search if force is necessary to ensure the safety of the officers, the public and the citizen under arrest. If the citizen is armed or there is a possibility the citizen is armed, the officers are allowed by law to disarm the suspect for their safety and the safety of others. Naturally they cannot disarm someone who is armed only with the use of their own body parts. However, the question under consideration is whether it is lawful to use a taser on an “unarmed” citizen? The question comes back to this: Is it reasonable? In other words, would a reasonable person do likewise under like circumstances?
Suppose for the sake of argument, a man is being stopped by the police due to his suspicious behavior; perhaps he was observed “casing a business” over a period of an hour or two. Police on the scene, or on being alerted by members of the public, observe this man acting in such a manner as to cause alarm. The police do not know at this time whether the man has a weapon.
An officer approaches the man to ask him questions to try and determine if he is in fact planning to commit a crime. Upon seeing the officer, the man reacts by suddenly turning to run. The officer, now more suspicious than before, considers that he has probable cause to arrest the man or at least stop and frisk (search in a limited capacity). The officer calls out for the man to “Stop” or “Halt.”
Instead of obeying as is required under the circumstances, the man runs faster. Perhaps when the officer gets close enough to make an arrest, the man reacts in a violent manner, threatening in both word and actions. The officer at this point has no guarantee that the man does not possess weapons. The suspect has already indicated that he will not allow himself to be taken peacefully and handcuffed. The officer, for reasons of safety, can use a taser to bring the situation under control.
Even if, upon searching the individual, the officer does not find a weapon such as a gun or knife, this does not mean that the suspect was without means to inflict injury on the officer or others nearby. It also is possible for suspects to gain enough control over an officer so as to take the officer’s service revolver. But the requirements of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment have been met, in that the officer acted “reasonably” whether or not any weapons are discovered.
The answer to the question then is: Not if the use of the taser is “reasonable” under the questioned circumstances. If other reasonable persons would have reacted in a like manner, the use of the taser is acceptable under the rule of law.