This endless debate over police shooting criminals is growing pretty stale. The number of deaths is terrbily tragic, particularly because they were never necessary. To be perfectly honest, it would never have gotten so bad if politicians weren’t consistently fanning the flames and keeping mum on the facts in order to further their own careers, rather than explaining to the public what they are missing: legal knowledge.
Personally, I happen to believe that as citizens, it’s our civil responsibility to have a general knowledge of the law. So, I’m going to give you a general overview of why people are ending up dead and why nobody’s going to prison for killing them.
Whether or not you personally agree with either the act of or the necessity for killing a criminal suspect, I hope you’ll be able to set your feelings aside, look at the law and the evidence in any specific case – the only two things that actually matter – and see why, under the law, killing a felony suspect who is in the middle of committing a violent felony, combative upon arrest or is attempting to escape capture for his felony isn’t now and has never been considered illegal, much less murder.
Some of these recent incidents in the media seemingly start innocently enough, but invariably, the suspect’s own actions cause them to escalate. You could get stopped for something as simple as jaywalking, but if you resort to assaulting the officer or attempt to flee the crime, you are not just a misdemeanor jaywalker anymore; you’ve just committed a felony, too, which brings with it a whole new set of rules, none of which play in your favor.
With few exceptions:
- Physically assaulting a police officer is a felony, with or without a weapon.
- Physically assaulting another citizen with any sort of weapon is a felony (and even without a weapon, if you give them cause to fear for someone’s life, a citizen can use lethal force to defend themselves or another from your assault)
- Fleeing your crime is a felony
- Resisting arrest can also be a felony, depending upon the actions you take. Passive resistance (curling up in a ball, etc) is a misdemeanor, but any physical effort to resist arrest is likely a felony.
Common Law (specifically, the Fleeing Felon Rule) permits the use of force, including deadly force, against an individual who is suspected of a felony and is in clear flight. Such force, including deadly force, may be used by:
- the victim
- police officers
It is not knowing the above – ignorance of the law, not the application of the law – which is truly responsible for nearly all the deaths we’ve been seeing.
The US Supreme Court agrees that deadly force may be used against anyone during the commission of a felony or fleeing from a felony, provided that they have given the police probable cause to believe that they are a danger to the officer or others, or if there is no other apparent means of stopping you from escaping.
When a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” (SCOTUS – Tennessee vs Garner)
That’s the federal law, people. There’s your reality. If you physically attack a cop, you’ve certainly given them probable cause to believe you’re willing to do just about anything to anyone in order to escape. And that’s merely a fairly recent (1985) limitation upon police. Under Common Law, a citizen has always had even more latitude in using whatever force is necessary, including deadly force, against a felony suspect in a crime to which they were victim or witness.
The above should be common knowledge. It’s our civil responsibility to have at least a general understanding of this stuff. However, for some reason people aren’t being remotely responsible in educating themselves and nobody seems willing to step up and educate them.
Why has this law always existed? To prevent crime.
- by instilling in citizens the good judgment NOT to commit felonies
- by ensuring that those who do insist upon committing them are much less likely to have a chance to commit even more crimes
Overall, throughout history, this rule has worked out rather well for societies around the world. One must keep in mind that in all of this, the criminal exhibits more interest in committing his crime than in his own survival. His actions proved that he willingly chose to place his desire to do whatever he chooses (commit felonies) above his own desire to survive the ordeal. Nobody else chose that for him; that’s free will.
Yes, in the US, you absolutely do have a right to a fair trial, even after a felony, if you surrender on demand. However, under Common Law, not a single one of us has ever had any actual right to remain alive during the commission of a felony, or when attempting to escape capture for our crime (a felony in itself) and certainly not if we try to beat or kill a cop in order to escape. Nobody. Ever.
Many people might believe in some mythical “right to live regardless of circumstance,” but it has never been true. Some may even believe people actually should have some sort of “right” to run around committing felonies without fearing for their lives, but to be frank, granting people permission to safely commit felonies would be incredibly stupid: the fear of losing one’s life is (and should be) the chief deterrent to serious crimes.
Police don’t shoot every felon on site, of course. Rarely ever. Most have the good sense to surrender when caught (and a large percentage haven’t committed any act of violence in the first place, or fight or flight during arrest.) However, some seem to be devoid of any common sense or knowledge of the law… and some of those people do end up being shot.
Moral: don’t commit felonies or assault anyone; not just against police, but anyone. You have no right whatsoever to live through it.
And if you should find yourself having done so, for God’s sakes, lie down and surrender. Save your own life. It’s not a contest to see how many stupid things you can do in one day. Just face down and surrender.
If only our “leaders” had the balls to square up and tell it like it is, rather than playing it up and using people to get more votes for their next election.
There are a few bad cops out there, but they’re very few… and you know what’s rarer still? good criminals.
Feel whatever you feel about criminals ending up dead, but do understand the law and its purpose.
While every death is a tragedy, not every death is a crime.
I didn’t write this because I’m insensitive and don’t care about people. I wrote it because I honestly do care… and the only way to curb these tragic deaths is to teach people.
[This, again, is a general overview. Yes, there are circumstances in which an arrest may be unfair or an officer may even be breaking the law himself, but you’d be wise to understand that it’s always your attorney’s job to fight that in court; never yours on the street.]