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Criminal Law Keyed to Gershowitz
Tennessee v. Garner
Citation:471 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1
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A woman told Memphis police officers that she had heard glass breaking and that “they” or “someone” was breaking in next door. An officer went behind the house and heard a door slam and saw someone run across the backyard. The fleeing suspect, Edward Garner, stopped at a 6-feet-high chain link fence at the edge of the yard. The officer saw no sign of a weapon and figured that Garner was unarmed. He thought Garner was 17 or 18 years old (Garner was 15 years old). While Garner was crouched at the base of the fence, the officer called out “police, halt” and took a few steps toward him. Garner then began to climb over the fence. Convinced that if Garner made it over the fence he would elude capture, the officer shot him. The bullet hit Garner in the back of the head. Garner was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died on the operating table. Ten dollars and a purse taken from the house were found on his body.
The officer was acting under the authority of a Tennessee statute that permitted “all the necessary means to effect an arrest” if the suspect was fleeing or resisting. Garner’s father brought a 1983 suit seeking damages for asserted violations of Garner’s constitutional rights. The District Court dismissed the claims. The Court of Appeals reversed, stating that a killing of a fleeing suspect is a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment and therefore is constitutional only if it is reasonable. The State of Tennessee appealed, and they are now in the Supreme Court.
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