Fleeing felon rule

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At common law, the fleeing felon rule permits the use of force, including deadly force, against an individual who is suspected of a felony and is in clear flight. According to David Caplan "Immediate stopping of the fleeing felon, whether actually or presumably dangerous, was deemed absolutely necessary for the security of the people in a free state, and for maintaining the "public security." ... " Indeed, it has been said that the social policy of the common law in this matter was not only to threaten dangerous felons and hence deter them, but was also to induce them to "surrender peaceably" if they dared commit inherently dangerous felonies, rather than allow them to "escape trial for their crimes." [1]

U.S. law[edit]

Under U.S. law the fleeing felon rule was limited in 1985 to non-lethal force in most cases by Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1. The justices held that deadly force "may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others."[2]

A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead...however...Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.

— Justice Byron White, Tennessee v. Garner[3]

Fleeing felons may be followed into places not open to the public without a warrant if the officer is in "hot pursuit[4]." Deadly force that is executed by a co-defendant against an accomplice is not justified by the fleeing felon rule.

Case law[edit]

  • Samuel Alito's memo written while working in the Solicitor General's office regarding Memphis Police v. Garner which was the Sixth Circuit appellate case leading to Tennessee v. Garner.[5] (May 18, 1984) (PDF)
  • People v. Couch[6] (1990) in the Michigan Supreme Court held that Tennessee v. Garner was
  1. civil rather than criminal action;
  2. did not affect Michigan's Fleeing Felon Rule; and
  3. that a citizen may use deadly force when restraining a fleeing felon in a criminal matter.
  • State v. Weddell,[7] The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a private citizen may not use deadly force under the common law fleeing felon rule.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Even Deadly Force". Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  2. ^ Robert C. Ankony, "Sociological and Criminological Theory: Brief of Theorists, Theories, and Terms," CFM Research, Jul. 2012, p.37.
  3. ^ "Tennessee v. Garner". Justia. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Warden, Md. Penitentiary v. Hayden, 387 L.Ed.2d 294 (USSC May 29, 1967).
  5. ^ "Memo from Samuel Alito" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  6. ^ "People v Couch". Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  7. ^ 118 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 23 (Supreme Court of the State of Nevada April 10, 2002).