Graham v. Connor

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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 was traveling with a friend, Berry, to a convenience store to get orange juice. Graham entered the store but left after seeing that many people were waiting in line. Connor, a nearby police officer, observed Graham's behavior and became suspicious. Graham returned to his friend's car, and they drove off, but Connor immediately pulled them over for an investigative stop to determine what they were doing at the store. Berry informed Officer Connor that Graham was having a "sugar reaction." Connor ordered Graham and Berry to remain stopped while he investigated what, if anything, went on at the store. Connor returned to his patrol car and called for backup. Graham got out of Berry's car and ran around it twice and then sat on the curb and passed out. When backup officers arrived, one of the officers rolled Graham over on the sidewalk and applied handcuffs tightly behind Graham's back. Berry plead with the officers to get Graham some sugar. Another officer said, "I've seen a lot of people with sugar diabetes that never acted like this. Ain't nothing wrong with the motherfucker but drunk. Lock the son-of-a-bitch up." Several officers then lifted the still-unconscious body of Graham and put him face down on the hood of Berry's car. As Graham regained consciousness, he asked the officers to check his back pocket for a diabetic decal. Rather than check Graham's pocket, one of the officers shouted at Graham to "shut up" and shoved Graham's face down against the hood of the car. Then four officers picked up Graham and threw him headfirst into the back of a police car. A friend arrived on the scene with some orange juice, which the officers prohibited Graham from drinking. Once Officer Connor confirmed that Graham had done nothing wrong at the convenience store, the officers drove him home and released him.

During the police encounter, 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 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 unreasonable: "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' judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration that used the proper Fourth Amendment standard.


Since Graham, the lower federal courts have occasionally supplemented its three factors with such matters as whether a warrant was issued, the plaintiff resisted or was armed, more than one arrestee or officer was involved, other dangerous or exigent circumstances existed at the time of the arrest as well as the nature of the arrest charges and the availability of alternative methods of capturing or subduing a suspect.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989)". Justia Law. Retrieved 2017-06-15.
  2. ^ Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1440 n.5 (9th Cir. 1994)

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