+1 (213) 444-2908


Any excessive use of force by police officers is unlawful and could lead to a viable civil rights lawsuit. However, defining excessive force is not straightforward. So, when does police use of force become excessive or unjustified?

If you are a victim of police brutality, you may be entitled to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Successful claims can secure compensation for the violation of your rights and hold police accountable for their actions. A California civil rights attorney can evaluate your case and advise you on your options. 

person being arrested in a riot


What is Excessive & Unjustified Force?


When a police officer uses more physical force than they reasonably believe is necessary in a particular situation, it is referred to as using excessive force. This can happen during any kind of seizure, including investigative stops and arrests. Both the use of excessive force and the failure to stop another officer from using excessive force are punishable offenses for officers.

The particulars of the situation at hand will determine whether or not the force used was excessive. This is regarded as a factual matter that juries usually resolve. A number of factors could be taken into account, such as the seriousness of the offense, the suspect’s potential threat, and whether the culprit was trying to elude capture or resist arrest. Thus, at what point does police force become excessive or unwarranted?

(policeman arresting a person)


When Does Police Use of Force Become Excessive or Unjustified


Excessive force by police can be categorized into two main types: lethal and nonlethal. Officers have a variety of tools and methods at their disposal, including K-9 units, to manage situations. However, the misuse of these tools can lead to serious injuries or death. When does police use of force become excessive or unjustified?

Non Lethal Force

In a variety of circumstances, law enforcement personnel utilize non-lethal force to uphold safety and order without seriously hurting anyone. For instance, non-lethal force may be used by police to restrain a criminal who refuses to be arrested. They may also use it to control crowds or quiet small-scale disturbances. Officers must cease using force as soon as the situation is under control.

Example of Non-Lethal Force

Officers may employ a variety of non-lethal force techniques, including:

  • Holding or restricting someone to stop them from leaving is known as physical restraint.
  • Batons: Applied to subdue or dominate people.
  • The irritant pepper spray is used to dissuade or immobilize people.
  • Conducted-energy weapons, or “tasers,” temporarily render a victim unconscious.

These techniques are intended to maintain situational and individual control without resulting in serious harm.

police baton


Lethal Force

Lethal force refers to any force that a reasonable person would consider likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. This level of force is considered justifiable only under conditions of extreme necessity, typically when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.

Lethal force may be used by police in the following situations:

  • Self-defense: If an officer feels that they or other people’s lives are in imminent danger, they may use lethal force. For instance, an officer may be justified in using lethal force to neutralize a subject who is armed and a direct threat.
  • Preventing Escape: Police have the right to use lethal force to stop a person who poses a serious risk to public safety from escaping. This is especially important if there is evidence that the suspect is a persistent threat and has a history of violent crimes.
  • Defending Others: If an officer has to use lethal force to keep someone else safe from impending danger, then doing so may also be justifiable. For example, an officer may use fatal force to defend the life of a hostage if the suspect is holding the person at gunpoint.

Lethal force should never be used unless all other options have been exhausted and there is an imminent and serious threat. Police personnel must receive extensive training in situation assessment in order to decide when to use force. The improper use of deadly force can have grave consequences as well as serious ethical and legal ramifications. So, when does police use of force become excessive or unjustified? Whenever the force is more than reasonable. What, though, is reasonable force?


What is Reasonable Force?


Police can only use force if there is a lawful objective. This means there must be a specific law that allows them to do so. The main legal bases for police to use force are:

  • Prevent crime
  • Lawfully arrest or assist in the arrest of someone who has committed, is suspected of committing, or has unlawfully escaped custody

The legality of the force used depends on:

  • The type and amount of force used by the police
  • The severity of the offense being prevented or the reason for the arrest
  • The level of resistance from the person being arrested

Police officers should always prioritize respecting and protecting human life. They should use force only when absolutely necessary and aim to minimize harm and injury.


What Does the Constitution Say About Police Use of Force?


The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.“

(police officer talking on her radio)


The Fourth Amendment’s section on “searches and seizures” covers the use of force by police. More specifically, a seizure occurs when a citizen is subjected to force. As a result, any force used by police must be justified. If not, it is considered police brutality, commonly described as the use of excessive force. If you or someone you know has suffered emotional distress or injury due to a civil rights violation, like excessive force, contact our attorney at Kirakosian Law APC for a free consultation.