SCOTUS case questions officer’s use of deadly force

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of an officer who used excessive force.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to hear a case that questions an officers use of excessive force. The case began when Police Corporal Andrew Kisela responded to a report that a woman was in the street with a large knife. When he arrived at the scene, the officer noted that he saw the described woman, later identified as Amy Hughes, with a knife approach another woman. He ordered her to drop the knife and she did not. Kisela then fired at Hughes and struck her several times.

Hughes filed a lawsuit against Kisela, stating that by firing upon her he violated her civil rights. The lower courts ruled in favor of the officer. SCOTUS took a different stance.

Supreme Court expands officer protections

Although the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling in favor of Kisela, it did not rule in favor of the injured woman. The court stated the shooting victim had no case. It clarified that this was because the officer in question was immune from such a suit.

The immunity arguably exists under the doctrine of qualified immunity. This immunity is present to help protect the public. It essentially reasons that an officer is more likely to protect those in need with excessive force if there is no threat of legal accountability. Whether or not the use of force is legal hinges on whether it was reasonable. The court will find the action reasonable if a reasonable officer would react the same way in the same situation. In this case, the court notes the officer was attempting to protect another citizen and that such action was reasonable.

Impact of the ruling

A ruling issued by the Supreme Court is law throughout the country. This means the reach of qualified immunity in similar cases will apply to officers throughout the United States.

The ruling serves as a reminder that anyone approached by the police is wise to refrain from making any motion that could be construed as aggressive. In this case, the woman continued to walk towards another civilian while still holding her weapon. The officer construed this as aggressive and used this to support his use of deadly force. In retrospect, it would have been best to stop the forward progress and drop the weapon.

Not everyone supports the majority's decision. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated within her dissent, the holding "sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public" that officers "can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished."

Seek legal counsel if questioned by police and charged with a crime

In the event that you are questioned by the police and the situation results in criminal charges, evidence can be gathered to build a defense. Contact an attorney to explore your options.