How Court Decisions Make Police Officers Unindictable In Force Cases


It’s virtually impossible to indict a police officer for excessive use of force, says The Nation. A 1985 Supreme Court case required that the use of force be “objectively reasonable,”but in actual courtroom practice, “objective reasonableness” has become nearly impossible to tell apart from the subjective snap judgments of panic-fueled police officers. Courts universally defer to the law enforcement officer's own personal assessment of the threat at the time.

The Supreme Court’s analysis essentially prohibits second-guessing of the officer's decision to use deadly force: no hindsight is permitted, and wide latitude is granted to the officer's account of the situation, even if scientific evidence proves it mistaken. Legal experts find that “there is built-in leeway for police, and the very breadth of this leeway is why criminal charges against police are so rare,” says Walter Katz, a police oversight lawyer who served on the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review until it disbanded in July. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine Law School, says recent Supreme Court decisions pose a series of obstacles to holding police accountable for civil rights violations.

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