Deadly force
Deadly force, as defined by the United States Armed Forces
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

, is the force which a person uses, causing—or that a person knows, or should know, would create a substantial risk of causing—death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 or serious bodily harm
Bodily harm
Bodily harm is a legal term of art used in the definition of both statutory and common law offences in Australia, Canada, England and Wales and other common law jurisdictions. It is a synonym for injury or bodily injury and similar expressions, though it may be used with a precise and limited...

. In most jurisdictions, the use of deadly force is justified only under conditions of extreme necessity as a last resort, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.

A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

s, bladed weapons, explosive
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

s, and vehicle
A vehicle is a device that is designed or used to transport people or cargo. Most often vehicles are manufactured, such as bicycles, cars, motorcycles, trains, ships, boats, and aircraft....

s are among those weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

s the use of which is considered deadly force. The use of non-weapons in an aggressive manner, such as a baseball bat or tire iron, may also be considered deadly force.

"Use of deadly force" is often granted to police force
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

s when the person or persons in question are believed to be an immediate danger to people around them. For example, an armed man in a shopping mall shooting at random without regard to the safety of the people around him, and refusing or being unwilling to negotiate, would likely warrant usage of deadly force, as a means to prevent further danger to the community. In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 this is governed by Tennessee v. Garner
Tennessee v. Garner
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may use deadly force only to prevent escape if the officer has probable cause to believe that...

, which said that "deadly force...may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and 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." In Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, it has recently been proposed that police officers should have this power when a person might in the future pose a threat to others (see Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005
Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005
The Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 is legislation intended to hamper the activities of any potential terrorists in Australia. It was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament on 6 December 2005.- Chronology :...


In general, all armed bodies, be they the police or military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 or some offshoot thereof, have the ability to issue authorization for the usage of such force.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a civilian
A civilian under international humanitarian law is a person who is not a member of his or her country's armed forces or other militia. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation...

 may legally use deadly force when it is considered justifiable homicide
Justifiable homicide
The United States' concept of justifiable homicide in criminal law stands on the dividing line between an excuse, justification and an exculpation. It is different from other forms of homicide in that due to certain circumstances the homicide is justified as preventing greater harm to innocents...

, that is to say when the civilian feels their own life, or the lives of their family or those around them are in legitimate and imminent danger. However, self-defense
Self-defense, self-defence or private defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one's property or the well-being of another from physical harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many...

 resulting in usage of deadly force by a civilian or civilians against an individual or individuals is often subject to examination by a court if it is unclear whether it was necessary at the point of the offense, and whether any further action on the part of the law needs to be taken.

Legal opinions

Use of deadly force in relation to motor vehicles:
In ,
the U.S. Supreme Court held that a police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause...

, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death. In the Harris case, Officer Scott applied his police car's push bumper to the rear of the suspect's vehicle, causing the suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

 vehicle to lose control and crash, resulting in the fleeing suspect being paralyzed waist down.

Traditionally, intentional contact between vehicles has been characterized as unlawful deadly force, though some U.S. federal appellate cases have mitigated this precedent. In
the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that although fatalities may result from intentional collisions between automobiles such fatalities are infrequent, and therefore unlawful deadly force should not be presumed to be the level of force applied in such incidents; however, the Adams case was subsequently called into question by
, which in turn was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Scott v. Harris case discussed above; the extent to which Adams can continue to be relied on is uncertain. In the Adams case, the officer rammed the suspect's vehicle.

, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recognized this principle but added that collisions between automobiles and motorcycles frequently lead to the death of the motorcyclist, and therefore a presumption that unlawful deadly force was used in such intentional collisions is more appropriate. In the Donovan case, the suspect lost control of his motorcycle and became airborne, crashing into the officer's vehicle, which was parked as part of an intercepting roadblock.

See also

  • Fleeing felon rule
    Fleeing felon rule
    In Common law, 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. Force may be used by the victim, bystanders, or police officers. In some jurisprudence failure to use such force was a misdemeanor which...

  • Non-lethal force
    Non-lethal force
    Non-lethal weapons, also called less-lethal weapons, less-than-lethal weapons, non-deadly weapons, compliance weapons, or pain-inducing weapons are weapons intended to be less likely to kill a living target than are conventional weapons...

  • Rules of Engagement
    Rules of engagement
    Rules of Engagement refers to those responses that are permitted in the employment of military personnel during operations or in the course of their duties. These rules of engagement are determined by the legal framework within which these duties are being carried out...

  • Licence to kill (concept)
    Licence to kill (concept)
    Licence to kill is a literary device used in espionage fiction. It refers to the official sanction by a government or government agency to a particular operative or employee to initiate the use of lethal force in the delivery of their objectives...

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