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Tennessee v. Garner

Citation. Tennessee v. Garner, 465 U.S. 1098, 104 S. Ct. 1589, 80 L. Ed. 2d 122, 52 U.S.L.W. 3687 (U.S. Mar. 19, 1984)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A police officer shot and mortally wounded a fleeing suspect.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

“A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”


Police Officers Hymon and Wright were dispatched to answer a prowler call. Hymon investigated while Wright radioed the dispatcher. At the back of the house, Hymon encountered a prowler. His flashlight revealed the prowler’s hands, which held no weapon, and by his own admission, Hymon was “reasonably sure” that the suspect was unarmed. He also figured the suspect was in his late teens. When Hymon identified himself as a police officer, the suspect, Garner, attempted to climb a fence. Hymon shot Garner, hitting him in the back of the head. He subsequently died on the operating table.
Hymon’s use of deadly force was permitted under Tennessee law and Department policy.
Garner’s father, the respondent, brought suit for violations of his son’s constitutional rights. The District Court ruled in favor of the State. The Court of Appeals reversed.


Whether the use of deadly force was permitted under the Constitution in this burglary case.


No. The Supreme Court of the United States first described the use of deadly force as a “seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.” The Supreme Court went on to describe the inherent problems of deadly force, and stated that its use in all instances of escape of suspects “is constitutionally unreasonable,” and stated absolutely that the Tennessee law “is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use deadly force against such fleeing [unarmed] suspects.” The Court was unwilling to construe the Fourth Amendment “in light of the common-law rule, which allowed the use of whatever force was necessary to effect [sic] the arrest of a fleeing felon, though not misdemeanant.” The Court was unwilling to follow this reasoning as the course of history has reduced the severity of punishment, and improved the relative ease with which a police officer can inflict deadly force. “[C]hanges in the legal and technological context mean the rule is distorte
d almost beyond recognition when literally applied.” The Court concluded that Hymon “could not have reasonably have believed that Garner.

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