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A Look at Police Use of Excessive Force & Courts Granting Qualified Immunity During Arrest


News headlines during the month of May have been dominated by the death of George Floyd, who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, inciting a number of protests around the country over excessive use of force by police. While it is unusual for police officers to be criminally prosecuted for actions in connection with their duties, on May 29, authorities decided to arrest and charge the officer involved with third-degree murder.

Police use of excessive force during an arrest has a significant impact on criminal defense in general. Every citizen who is subject to search and seizure by a police officer has the right to be free from excessive use of force, as well as cruel and unusual punishment. When police abuse their position against citizens, innocent people are less likely to exert their rights and are more likely to end up as suspects and criminal defendants; sometimes as a result of state law authorizing the unreasonable use of force by law enforcement.

Qualified Immunity

While the US Supreme Court has held that lethal force can only be used during an arrest if it is necessary to prevent a criminal suspect from escaping and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat to the officer or others, the only remedies typically available to those who are victimized by it are civil, and the courts will often grant officers qualified immunity in these cases, whereby they are essentially given a free pass as long as they made reasonable judgments and the law is “clearly established”—i.e. case law has directly and specifically addressed the disputed issue such that it is very clear and the officer was placed on notice that their conduct was illegal.

The Connection Between Criminal Allegations, Arrest, And Excessive Use of Force

According to reports on the complaint, George Floyd was under arrest for allegedly trying to use a fake $20 bill at a local store, and refusing to get into the police car. Similar incidents have occurred here in North Carolina, and lead to investigations involving police officers allegedly using excessive force. For example, according to body and dashcam footage obtained, several officers recently pulled over a suspect in connection with charges that included driving while impaired, hit-and-run, drug possession, and resisting arrest, and pulled him  out of his car, punching him repeatedly.

Authorities have indicated that the officer responsible for Floyd’s death should have known that the restraint he was using was inherently dangerous and, through his culpable negligence, he created an unreasonable risk of causing great bodily harm or death to the defendant.  He is now being charged with third-degree murder, or the unlawful killing of someone without any design to do so while being engaged in a felony. Authorities have also indicated that additional charges may be brought against some of the other officers involved, and that they are moving faster with these charges than is typical, which is usually between nine months and one year, if at all. In fact, in most cases, officers are not charged in connection with suspects’ deaths. Reports also indicate that this particular officer involved in Floyd’s death had been the subject of more than 12 prior complaints that failed to result in any disciplinary actions.

If You Have Been Charged With A Crime In North Carolina, Contact A Criminal Defense Lawyer To Represent Your Rights

As someone who has been accused of a crime, you have a number of constitutional rights, and may very well have questions about whether excessive force was used against you during your arrest. Your rights are absolutely crucial to your ability to successfully defend yourself, but working with a successful criminal defense attorney is essential in order to do so.

At the Hauter Law Firm, PC, we work aggressively to ensure that your rights are defended and you have the best defense possible. Contact our North Carolina criminal lawyers today to find out more.



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