It seems like all the news talks about lately in the United States is cops shooting unarmed black men who did not actually present a threat to the police or the community. The Washington Post reports that 990 people were shot and killed by law enforcement officers across the U.S. in 2015 and, as of August 2nd, that number has risen to 560 for 2016. The Post keeps an ongoing counter of reported police killings. It should be no surprise that deadly force by police has become a common topic of debate and a hot-button issue for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.

While there is no question that many police are justified in using deadly force against certain suspects, in many cases, officers can pull out their weapons and shoot without lawful justification. When this occurs, a person’s life is tragically and unnecessarily lost and, even more tragically, many officers are not held accountable for their actions. This is because the line at which deadly force is justified is not always clear. The following is some information regarding when an officer can use deadly force and when such force should result in criminal liability.

Limitations on Deadly Force

Generally speaking, police are justified in using force against suspects and arrestees when it is necessary for self-defense and/or defense of the community. Police are only allowed to use the degree of force needed to prevent harm and succeed in making the arrest or otherwise mitigating risks. In many cases, police will use threatening words, physical restraint, or other tactics to get a suspect on the ground and placed under arrest. If physical restraint is not possible, police often have the option to use pepper spray, Tasers, and other non-lethal forms of force to subdue an agitated or resisting suspect.

Police are limited to non-deadly force unless the suspect is believed to be life-threatening. In the past, the “Fleeing Felon Rule” allowed police to lawfully shoot at any suspect who was suspected of committing any felony and who was running away. That means that police used to be able to lawfully kill a person who was running away simply because they had a small amount of cocaine in their pocket. That person posed no dangerous threat to the police or the community, yet many fleeing suspected felons ended up dead as a result.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States put further limitations on the use of deadly force in the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner. Since that decision, police officers cannot use deadly force to simply stop them from escaping. Instead, officers must have the belief that the individual will cause serious bodily injury or death to a police officer or another member of the community if they are not arrested.

In many of the recent police shooting cases, people who were fatally shot either had their hands up or they were reported as running away from officers with no signs of being armed or dangerous. In such cases, police should be held accountable for their horribly wrongful actions, including civil liability for wrongful death and violations of civil rights, as well as criminal liability for manslaughter or murder in some situations. However, many officers have simply said they did believe that their lives were in danger for one reason or another, which often results in no criminal charges being filed and little liability or even discipline for the officer.

Your Rights after Unlawful Police Brutality

Being the victims of unlawful police brutality can be traumatizing and can leave you with serious injuries. If the police used unnecessary force against you and caused you injuries, you have rights to file a legal against the officers for violating your civil rights. You should not delay in discussing your case with an attorney who can both handle your Philadelphia police brutality claims as well as any criminal charges you may be facing.

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

At The Zeiger Firm in Philadelphia, we are deeply committed to protecting the rights of individuals whose rights have been violated by law enforcement agencies, as well as providing the highest quality of criminal defense if you are facing any charges. Please call our office today at 215-546-0340 to discuss how we can help you in your case.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.