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Police brutality: When can police use lethal force?

New York City police officers perform the valuable public service of keeping us safe from criminal elements. However, there are times when police become overzealous in their application of the law, in addition to becoming overly violent. There are times when violent -- even lethal -- force is required by police to carry out their duties, and there are times when it's clearly not required.

When a New York resident gets seriously hurt or killed by a police officer who is allegedly carrying out his or her duties, questions over whether such a high level of force was necessary may arise. One important question that courts around the nation -- including the United States Supreme Court -- have deliberated is the question: When can police use lethal force?

The U.S. Supreme Court's solidified the notion of "unreasonable use of force" in the case of a fleeing teenager, who police fatally shot while he ran away from a home he burglarized. In that case, the Supreme Court overturned a state law that permitted police to use "all the necessary means to effect arrest." In its decision, the Supreme Court clarified when deadly force might be used to effect arrest if the following two conditions are present:

-- If it's required to prevent a suspect from escaping, and

-- If probable cause exists to believe the suspect could threaten others, including officers, with serious physical injury or death.

Without the above two conditions, deadly force is likely inappropriate. If your loved one was killed by a police officer, the situation warrants a detailed investigation to determine if police inappropriately or unlawfully used excessive force. If excessive force was indeed applied, then close family members may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim against the government entity in charge of the police force.

Source: FindLaw, "Excessive Force and Police Brutality," accessed May 10, 2017

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