Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
A claim of excessive force by law enforcement during an arrest, stop, or other seizure of an individual is subject to the objective reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment, rather than a substantive due process standard under the Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, the facts and circumstances related to the use of force should drive the analysis, rather than any improper intent or motivation by the officer who used force.
When a diabetic patient began to experience an insulin reaction, he asked a friend to drive him to a convenience store to buy orange juice. Since the store was crowded when he arrived, the patient felt that he would not get the orange juice in time and asked his friend to drive him to another individual's house. A police officer noticed the patient leaving the store soon after he entered it and followed the friend's car. The officer eventually stopped the vehicle and ordered the patient and the friend to wait while he investigated what happened in the store. Other police officers handcuffed the patient after arriving at the scene, while failing to investigate or address his medical condition. The patient was injured during these events, but the original officer released him after some time had passed when he found out that no crime had occurred in the store.Opinions
- William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
- Byron Raymond White
- John Paul Stevens
- Sandra Day O'Connor
- Antonin Scalia
- Anthony M. Kennedy
- Harry Andrew Blackmun
- William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
- Thurgood Marshall
Writing for a unanimous Court, Rehnquist ruled that an analysis of an excessive force claim should consider whether the search or seizure was objectively reasonable, based on how a reasonable police officer would have handled the same situation. The specific intent of the individual police officer who executed the search or seizure should not matter. While improper intentions do not make a reasonable use of force unconstitutional, good intentions do not shield an officer from liability if their use of force was objectively unreasonable. Thus, the Supreme Court rejected both the decisions of lower courts that had relied on the 14th Amendment and arguments that the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment should apply. (An Eighth Amendment standard also would be subjective.) In deciding whether an officer used excessive force in a certain situation, a court should consider similar factors to those described in the earlier decision of Tennessee v. Garner. These include the severity of the crime, any threat posed by the individual to the safety of officers or other people, and whether the individual is trying to flee or resist arrest.Case Commentary
This case helped shape police procedures for stops that involve the use of force. An officer cannot justify these actions based on a hunch or by showing that they acted in good faith. Instead, they must carefully articulate facts and events that made their use of force objectively reasonable under the circumstances.
U.S. Supreme CourtGraham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
Graham v. Connor
Argued February 21, 1989
Decided May 15, 1989
490 U.S. 386
Petitioner Graham, a diabetic, asked his friend, Berry, to drive him to a convenience store to purchase orange juice to counteract the onset of an insulin reaction. Upon entering the store and seeing the number of people ahead of him, Graham hurried out and asked Berry to drive him to a friend's house instead. Respondent Connor, a city police officer, became suspicious after seeing Graham hastily enter and leave the store, followed Berry's car, and made an investigative stop, ordering the pair to wait while he found out what had happened in the store. Respondent backup police officers arrived on the scene, handcuffed Graham, and ignored or rebuffed attempts to explain and treat Graham's condition. During the encounter, Graham sustained multiple injuries. He was released when Conner learned that nothing had happened in the store. Graham filed suit in the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against respondents, alleging that they had used excessive force in making the stop, in violation of "rights secured to him under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983." The District Court granted respondents' motion for a directed verdict at the close of Graham's evidence, applying a four-factor test for determining when excessive use of force gives rise to a § 1983 cause of action, which inquires, inter alia, whether the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm. Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028. The Court of Appeals affirmed, endorsing this test as generally applicable to all claims of constitutionally excessive force brought against government officials, rejecting Graham's argument that it was error to require him to prove that the allegedly excessive force was applied maliciously and sadistically to cause harm, and holding that a reasonable jury applying the Johnson v. Glick test to his evidence could not find that the force applied was constitutionally excessive.
Held: All claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force -- deadly or not -- in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of a free citizen are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's "objective reasonableness" standard, rather than under a substantive due process standard. Pp. 490 U. S. 392-399.
(a) The notion that all excessive force claims brought under § 1983 are governed by a single generic standard is rejected. Instead, courts must identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged application of force, and then judge the claim by reference to the specific constitutional standard which governs that right. Pp. 490 U. S. 393-394.
(b) Claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of a free citizen are most properly characterized as invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right "to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable seizures," and must be judged by reference to the Fourth Amendment's "reasonableness" standard. Pp. 490 U. S. 394-395.
(c) The Fourth Amendment "reasonableness" inquiry is whether the officers' actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397.
(d) The Johnson v. Glick test applied by the courts below is incompatible with a proper Fourth Amendment analysis. The suggestion that the test's "malicious and sadistic" inquiry is merely another way of describing conduct that is objectively unreasonable under the circumstances is rejected. Also rejected is the conclusion that, because individual officers' subjective motivations are of central importance in deciding whether force used against a convicted prisoner violates the Eighth Amendment, it cannot be reversible error to inquire into them in deciding whether force used against a suspect or arrestee violates the Fourth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment terms "cruel" and "punishment" clearly suggest some inquiry into subjective state of mind, whereas the Fourth Amendment term "unreasonable" does not. Moreover, the less protective Eighth Amendment standard applies only after the State has complied with the constitutional guarantees traditionally associated with criminal prosecutions. Pp. 490 U. S. 397-399.
827 F.2d 945, vacated and remanded.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 490 U. S. 399.