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Tennessee v. Garner

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

Tennessee v. Garner

Citation. 471 U.S. 1,105 S. Ct. 1694, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1,1985 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The officers in question shot an unarmed suspected felon. This case was instituted by the victim’s family alleging that the victim’s constitutional rights were violated by the officers.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

If an officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses a threat of serious bodily harm either to fellow officers or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.


The police were summoned to stop a suspected burglary. As the police arrived, Victim was seen fleeing the scene of the alleged burglary. An officer saw Victim, and could see that Victim possessed no weapon, and yelled at him to stop. Victim continued to climb the wall to escape at which point he was shot and killed. Victim’s father brought this action seeking damages for a violation of the Victim’s constitutional rights. The judge found the officer’s actions were constitutional. The Appellate Court reversed and the State appealed.


Whether law enforcement officials can use deadly force to prevent the escape of an unarmed suspected felon under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.


The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
The reasonableness of a search and seizure had to be determined looking at the manner of the search and how it is carried out.

If an officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses the threat of serious bodily harm, either to a fellow officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.


Justices Rehnquist, O’Connor and the Chief Justice dissented arguing that a deadly seizure analysis should conduct a careful balance between the public interest and the nature of the intrusion on the individual in question. The dissent argued that burglary was a serious felony and that fore used could be found to be justified. The dissent criticized the majority for crafting a decision that would allow second guessing of police without providing the officers with adequate guidance on how to proceed in the future.


The Court ruled that the State has not advanced an interest more important than the suspect’s life to allow for the use of deadly force. The Court noted that several jurisdictions had explicitly prohibited the use of deadly force to arrest nonviolent suspects. Further, the Court reviewed current police department procedures and found that the use of deadly force to apprehend suspected criminals had been limited the use to violent felonies or felons. The final point the Court made was that the traditional common law rule allowing such force to be used was outdated and unnecessary due to advances and new society views on the use of force.

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