No-Warning Deadly Force Upheld by Supreme Court

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a decision handed down January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States explained that a New Mexico police officer acted reasonably when he fatally shot a suspect without warning in October 2011. While officers generally are required to announce their presence, particularly before exerting physical force, let alone deadly force, the Supreme Court was ruling about a very particular, peculiar situation that unfolded in October 2011 where an officer arrived late to an active scene.

The case involved an active police investigation into a road rage incident. The suspects allegedly did not realize that police were present. Instead, they thought that they were under attack. So they came come out of the home firing guns. An officer who arrived at the scene shot and killed one of the suspects.

Police Protocol

Since the officer arrived late, he argued that he assumed that proper protocol had been followed. In other words, he believed that the suspects had been made aware of the presence of police. The Supreme Court agreed.

The Court ruled that the officer had no reason to believe that proper protocol had not been followed. The Court found that an officer arriving on an active scene, as in this case, can safely assume that the police on the scene have already followed protocol.

Deadly Force Versus Excessive Force

Unfortunately, there are times when an officer will have to use deadly force. Generally, those times are supposed to be limited to when there is no other alternative, and the officer or the pubic are faced with injury, or death, and the harm is imminent. When deadly force is used despite reasonable, and reliable, alternatives, or a lack of imminence, then that may give rise to a claim of excessive force or wrongful death.

Excessive force claims, and even wrongful death claims, against law enforcement may have shortened statutes of limitations for some legal claims, depending on your state. In some states, like California, any claim against a government entity is subject to a claim filing requirement (meaning you have to file some paperwork within a few months with the agency or state before you can sue).

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