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Graham v. Connor


Graham, a diabetic, felt the onset of an insulin reaction and desired to purchase some orange juice to counteract the reaction. Berry, a friend of the Graham’s, drove him to a convenience store. Graham, concerned about the number of people ahead of him at the checkout line, rushed out of the store and returned to Berry’s automobile. He asked Berry to take him to a friend’s house. Officer Connor observed Graham hastily enter and leave the store and became suspicious. Officer Connor made an investigative stop of the automobile. Although Berry explained that his friend was suffering from a “sugar reaction,” the officer ordered Berry and Graham to wait while he found out what happened in the convenience store. When the officer returned to his patrol car to call for backup, Graham got out of the car, ran around it twice, and sat down on the curb, where he passed out briefly. A number of other police officers responded to the officer’s request for backup. One of the officers rolled Graham over on the sidewalk and cuffed his hands tightly behind his back, ignoring Berry’s pleas to get him some sugar. Another officer said “I’ve seen a lot of people with sugar diabetes that never acted like this. Ain’t nothing wrong with the M. F. but drunk. Lock the S.B. up.” Several officers then lifted Graham up from behind, carried him over to Berry’s car, and placed him face down on its hood. Regaining consciousness, Graham asked the officers to check in his wallet for a diabetic decal that he carried. One of the officers told him to “shut up” and shoved his face down against the hood of the car. Four officers grabbed Graham and threw him headfirst into the police car. A friend of Graham’s brought some orange juice to the car, but the officers refused to let him have it. After receiving a report that Graham had done nothing wrong at the convenience store, the officers drove him home and released him. Graham sustained a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead, and an injured shoulder; he also claimed to have developed a permanent loud ringing in his right ear. He sued the officers under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they had used excessive force in making the investigatory stop.


Whether the constitutional standard governs a citizen’s claim that a law enforcement officer used excessive force is “reasonableness?”


Yes. Claims of excessive use of force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of a person are examined under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard.


When an excessive force claim arises in the context of an arrest or investigatory stop, it is most properly characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right “to be secure in their persons … against unreasonable … seizures.” Accordingly, all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force – deadly or not – in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its “reasonableness” standard. Further, the “reasonableness” of a particular seizure depends not only on when it is made, but also on how it is carried out. The Supreme Court has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to affect it.

In determining whether the use of force in a given situation was “reasonable,” courts consider all of the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. For example, the Fourth Amendment is not necessarily violated by an arrest based on probable cause, even though the wrong person is arrested, nor by the mistaken execution of a valid search warrant on the wrong premises. With respect to a claim of excessive force, the same standard of reasonableness at the moment applies. Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge’s chambers, violates the Fourth Amendment. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. Finally, as in other Fourth Amendment contexts, the “reasonableness” inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question 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.


490 U.S. 386, 109 S. Ct. 1865 (1989)

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