Graham v. Connor

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Graham v. Connor
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued February 21, 1989
Decided May 15, 1989
Full case nameDethorne Graham v. Connor, et al.
Citations490 U.S. 386 (more)
109 S. Ct. 1865; 104 L. Ed. 2d 443; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 2467; 57 U.S.L.W. 4513
An objective reasonableness standard should apply to a free citizen's claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of his person.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
MajorityRehnquist, joined by White, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy
ConcurrenceBlackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court case where the Court determined that an objective reasonableness standard should apply to a civilian's claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of his person.


Graham traveled with a friend, to a convenience store. Graham entered the store but quickly left. Returning to his friends vehicle they then drove away from the store. Connor, a nearby police officer, observed Graham's behavior and became suspicious. Connor pulled them over for an investigative stop.

During the police encounter, Graham resisted arrest but may have been having a medical issue. Graham suffered a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead, and an injured shoulder. He filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Connor and other officers alleging that the officers' use of force during the investigative stop was excessive and violated Graham's civil rights.[1]

The outcome of the case was the creation of a "reasonableness test" when examining an officers actions. That test, over time via case law, would evolve to something that could be summed up as "given the facts known at the time, would a similarly trained and experienced officer respond in a similar fashion".


The Supreme Court held that determining the "reasonableness" of a seizure "requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." It acknowledged, "Our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it." However, it then noted, "Because the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application," the test's "proper application requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case."

The Court rejected the notion that the judiciary could use the Due Process Clause, instead of the Fourth Amendment, in analyzing an excessive force claim: "Because the Fourth Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against this sort of physically intrusive governmental conduct, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of 'substantive due process,' must be the guide for analyzing these claims."

The Court then explained that, "As in other Fourth Amendment contexts... the "reasonableness" inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." The Court also cautioned, "The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

The Court then outlined a non-exhaustive list of factors for determining when an officer's use of force is objectively reasonable: "the severity of the crime at issue," "whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others," and "whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight."

Having established the proper framework for excessive force claims, the Court explained that the Court of Appeals had applied a test that focused on an officer's subjective motivations, rather than whether he had used an objectively unreasonable amount of force. The Court then reversed the Court of Appeals' judgement and remanded the case for reconsideration that used the proper Fourth Amendment standard.


Many high-profile cases of alleged use of excessive force by a law enforcement officer have been decided based on the framework set out by Graham v. Connor, including those where a black civilian was killed by a white officer: shooting of Michael Brown, shooting of Jonathan Ferrell, shooting of John Crawford III, shooting of Samuel DuBose, shooting of Jamar Clark, shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, shooting of Terence Crutcher, shooting of Alton Sterling, shooting of Philando Castile[2][3]. In most of these cases, the officer's actions were deemed to pass the reasonableness test.

Police-aligned media praise the precedent set by Graham v. Connor for enforcing police officers' rights to perform their duties without suffering injury and recognizing the dangers inherent to their work.[2][4][5] Critics view the framework it created as unjust based on the large number of high-profile acquittals it resulted in, not allowing hindsight knowledge to be considered in a case, and allowing for racial biases to weigh on the verdict.[2][3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989)". Justia Law. Retrieved 2017-06-15.
  2. ^ a b c "Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man | More Perfect". WNYC Studios. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  3. ^ a b "Why Police 'Get Away With It'". Charlotte Magazine. 2017-06-23. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  4. ^ a b "Graham v. Connor: Three decades of guidance and controversy". PoliceOne. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  5. ^ Clark, Mark. "Understanding Graham v. Connor". Retrieved 2020-06-03.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]