Graham v. Conner 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
The Plaintiff (Graham) is diabetic and he had been feeling awful after an insulin reaction. A friend took the plaintiff to the store but because the queue at the store was too long so he hurriedly left the store and his friend drove him to their friend’s home for juice. A police officer, on seeing the plaintiff hurriedly leave the store, was suspicious and trailed the car. He stopped the two after trailing them for one mile. The plaintiff’s friend told the police officer that Graham was having a “sugar reaction” (Whitted, Cleary, & Takiff, 2010). The officer told them that they had to “stay put” because he had to confirm that they were telling the truth before letting them go. While the officer was doing this, Graham got out from the car and ran around it two times before passing out. There was confusion afterwards and when police back-up arrived, the officers assumed that the plaintiff was drunk. In addition, the officers did not allow the plaintiff’s friend to offer him the orange juice he had brought him. The officers only released the plaintiff after they had learnt that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing in the store. The plaintiff suffered several injuries such as a broken foot, cut wrists, ringing in the ear and a bruised forehead (Whitted, Cleary, & Takiff, 2010).
The issue being addressed by the court is the determination of the constitutional standard that governs the claim of a free citizen that law enforcement officers used excess force when making an arrest, stopping the suspect for investigation or any other seizure of a citizen.
In the District Court, a four-part analysis of the case was conducted. This test is also known as the 4th Amendment Reasonableness Test. This analysis revealed that there was a real need for force to be applied and that the plaintiff did not suffer any discernible injury. It was argued that this was done in a sincere effort to keep and restore discipline rather than in a sadistic or malicious manner with the purpose of causing harm. The Appellate Court threw the case out and affirmed the District Court’s decision. However, the plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Court asserted the 4-part test. The Appellate Court panel was divided on the verdict. The dissenting judge held that the Court’s decisions in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) and Terry v. Ohio (1968) stipulated that excessive force cases related to investigatory stops must be analyzed with reference to the 4th Amendment rule of “objective reasonableness” (Lippman, 2011). However, the majority held that no “discernible” injury was caused to the plaintiff and that the officers’ intentions were not to cause harm but to maintain and restore order and discipline. They threw the case out on this basis. After the case was thrown out, the plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court highlighted that the Appellate Court had made a big mistake and must not always apply the 4-part test (Johnson v. Glick test) in every situation involving “excessive force” (Findlaw.com, 2011). In addition, the court pointed out that the Appellate Court ought to have started by determining which of the constitutional provisions applies. Either the 4th Amendment (prohibition from unreasonable search and seize applies in this case) or the 8th Amendment (Unusual and cruel punishment) applies. This is because this is the constitutional protection available to citizens against physical abuse from government officials.
The 4th amendment applies when a free citizen is arrested or stopped for investigative purposes. All similar stops must be evaluated under the 4th Amendment standard to determine how reasonable the stop was made and carried out under the prevailing circumstances (Lippman, 2011). The term “reasonableness” may only be determined through the perspective of the officer and on the scene regardless of their underlying motivation or intent. There must also be an allowance that shows that police officers often find themselves in situations where they must make very quick decisions regarding the level of force they should use in a given situation. They only use what is apparent to them at that time. It must not be made with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight (Findlaw.com, 2011). During an arrest or stop for investigation, the most critical questions should enable the court determine the severity of the crime, presence of immediate threat to the officer or other people and whether the subject is resisting the arrest or fighting-off the police officers.
The issues revealed by this case include showing how the appellate court erred through application of the 4-step test rather than the 4th Amendment. To determine reasonableness, the court must not only determine when the seizure was made but how it was carried out. The court should, therefore, balance the quality and nature of the violation of the 4th Amendment interests of the individual against the interests of the government at stake (Lippman, 2011). Factors to be considered include determining whether the suspect resists arrest or is an immediate threat to the police officers or those around.
Findlaw.com. (2011). FindLaw | Cases and Codes. FindLaw | Cases and Codes. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=490&invol=386
Lippman, M. R. (2011). Criminal procedure. Los Angeles: Sage.
Whitted., Cleary., & Takiff. (2010). Police Use of Force. Police Use of Force. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.wct-law.com/resource-links/publications/198.html