Graham v. Connor

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Graham v. Connor
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 21, 1989
Decided May 15, 1989
Full case name Dethorne Graham v. Connor, et al.
Citations 490 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
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by White, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy
Concurrence Blackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall
Laws applied
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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 held that determining the "reasonableness" of a seizure "requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual . . . against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." It acknowledged that "[o]ur 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 that "[b]ecause 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 then outlined a non-exhaustive list of factors for balancing an individual's rights vs. an officer's: 1) "the severity of the crime at issue"; 2) "whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others"; and 3) "whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight."

The Graham Court cautioned that "[t]he "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." It also reinforced that, "[a]s 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."

Since Graham, the lower federal courts have occasionally supplemented its three factors with such matters as whether a warrant was issued; whether the plaintiff resisted or was armed; whether more than one arrestee or officer was involved; whether other dangerous or exigent circumstances existed at the time of the arrest; the nature of the arrest charges; and the availability of alternative methods of capturing or subduing a suspect. Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1440 n.5 (9th Cir. 1994)

Graham also established that the judiciary may not use the Due Process Clause instead of the Fourth Amendment when 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."

See also[edit]