CHICAGO: Attorneys and witnesses have used the words “reasonable” or “unreasonable” often at the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd‘s death.
It’s no coincidence. The concept of reasonableness has been crucial at trials of officers ever since the landmark Graham v. Connor ruling 32 years ago by the US Supreme Court.
Here is a look at the issue and the key role it’s likely to play as Derek Chauvin‘s trial draws to a close.
What was Graham V. Connor about?
Before the Graham v. Connor ruling in 1989, lower courts were often at odds about how to determine whether an officer on trial used an unreasonable, and therefore illegal, amount of force.
Graham v. Connor involved a 1984 arrest in North Carolina in which officers manhandled diabetic Dethorne Graham, brushing off his pleas for treatment when he said he was having a potentially deadly insulin reaction.
It bore some similarities to the arrest of Floyd last May 25, when Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on the Black man’s neck for nearly 9 1/2 minutes.
What criteria did the High Court set?
In its unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the court said whether an officer used a proper level of force had to be viewed from the officer’s perspective.
“The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” Rehnquist wrote.
That means jurors must not consider what they would have done in Chauvin‘s shoes, but rather, what any reasonable officer would have done under the same circumstances.
Among the implications of Graham v. Connor was that an officer’s actions leading to a suspect’s death may be legal if the officer believed his or her life was at risk – even if, in hindsight, it becomes clear there was no such danger.
The assertion that an officer’s perception of fear could trump the actual danger has led to acquittals of many officers over

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