APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. O'connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Burger, C. J., and Rehnquist, J., joined, post, p. 22.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon. We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is 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.
At about 10:45 p. m. on October 3, 1974, Memphis Police Officers Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright were dispatched to answer a "prowler inside call." Upon arriving at the scene they saw a woman standing on her porch and gesturing toward the adjacent house.*fn1 She told them she had heard glass breaking and that "they" or "someone" was breaking in next door. While Wright radioed the dispatcher to say that they were on the scene, Hymon went behind the house. He heard a door slam and saw someone run across the backyard. The fleeing suspect, who was appellee-respondent's decedent, Edward Garner, stopped at a 6-feet-high chain link fence at the edge of the yard. With the aid of a flashlight, Hymon was able to see Garner's face and hands. He saw no sign of a weapon, and, though not certain, was "reasonably sure" and "figured" that Garner was unarmed. App. 41, 56; Record 219. He thought Garner was 17 or 18 years old and
about 5'5" or 5'7" tall.*fn2 While Garner was crouched at the base of the fence, Hymon 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,*fn3 Hymon 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.*fn4
In using deadly force to prevent the escape, Hymon was acting under the authority of a Tennessee statute and pursuant to Police Department policy. The statute provides that "[if], after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, he either flee or forcibly resist, the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest." Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 40-7-108 (1982).*fn5 The Department policy was slightly more restrictive than the statute, but still allowed the use of deadly force in cases of burglary. App. 140-144. The incident was reviewed by the Memphis Police Firearm's Review Board and presented to a grand jury. Neither took any action. Id., at 57.
Garner's father then brought this action in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, seeking damages under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 for asserted violations of Garner's constitutional rights. The complaint alleged that the shooting violated the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. It named as defendants Officer Hymon, the Police Department, its Director, and the Mayor and city of Memphis. After a 3-day bench trial, the District Court entered judgment for all defendants. It dismissed the claims against the Mayor and the Director for lack of evidence. It then concluded that Hymon's actions were authorized by the Tennessee statute, which in turn was constitutional. Hymon had employed the only reasonable and practicable means of preventing Garner's escape. Garner had "recklessly and heedlessly attempted to vault over the fence to escape, thereby assuming the risk of being fired upon." App. to Pet. for Cert. A10.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed with regard to Hymon, finding that he had acted in good-faith reliance on the Tennessee statute and was therefore within the scope of his qualified immunity. 600 F.2d 52 (1979). It remanded for reconsideration of the possible liability of the city, however, in light of Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), which had come down after the District Court's decision. The District Court was
directed to consider whether a city enjoyed a qualified immunity, whether the use of deadly force and hollow point bullets in these circumstances was constitutional, and whether any unconstitutional municipal conduct flowed from a "policy or custom" as required for liability under Monell. 600 F.2d, at 54-55.
The District Court concluded that Monell did not affect its decision. While acknowledging some doubt as to the possible immunity of the city, it found that the statute, and Hymon's actions, were constitutional. Given this conclusion, it declined to consider the "policy or custom" question. App. to Pet. for Cert. A37-A39.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. 710 F.2d 240 (1983). It reasoned that the killing of a fleeing suspect is a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment,*fn6 and is therefore constitutional only if "reasonable." The Tennessee statute failed as applied to this case because it did not adequately limit the use of deadly force by distinguishing between felonies of different magnitudes -- "the facts, as found, did not justify the use of deadly force under the Fourth Amendment." Id., at 246. Officers cannot resort to deadly force unless they "have probable cause . . . to believe that the suspect [has committed a felony and] poses a threat to the safety of the officers or a danger to the community if left at large." Ibid.*fn7
The State of Tennessee, which had intervened to defend the statute, see 28 U. S. C. § 2403(b), appealed to this Court. The city filed a petition for certiorari. We noted probable jurisdiction in the appeal and granted the petition. 465 U.S. 1098 (1984).
Whenever an officer restrains the freedom of a person to walk away, he has seized that person. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975). While it is not always clear just when minimal police interference becomes a seizure, see United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544 (1980), there can be no question that apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.
A police officer may arrest a person if he has probable cause to believe that person committed a crime. E. g., United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411 (1976). Petitioners and appellant argue that if this requirement is satisfied the Fourth Amendment has nothing to say about how that seizure is made. This submission ignores the many cases in which this Court, by balancing the extent of the intrusion against the need for it, has examined the reasonableness of
the manner in which a search or seizure is conducted. To determine the constitutionality of a seizure "[we] must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion." United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703 (1983); see Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 555 (1976). We have described "the balancing of competing interests" as "the key principle of the Fourth Amendment." Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 700, n. 12 (1981). See also Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 536-537 (1967). Because one of the factors is the extent of the intrusion, it is plain that reasonableness depends on not only when a seizure is made, but also how it is carried out. United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 895 (1975); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 28-29 (1968).
Applying these principles to particular facts, the Court has held that governmental interests did not support a lengthy detention of luggage, United States v. Place, supra, an airport seizure not "carefully tailored to its underlying justification," Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983) (plurality opinion), surgery under general anesthesia to obtain evidence, Winston v. Lee, 470 U.S. 753 (1985), or detention for fingerprinting without probable cause, Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721 (1969); Hayes v. Florida, 470 U.S. 811 (1985). On the other hand, under the same approach it has upheld the taking of fingernail scrapings from a suspect, Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U.S. 291 (1973), an unannounced entry into a home to prevent the destruction of evidence, Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963), administrative housing inspections without probable cause to believe that a code violation will be found, Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, and a blood test of a drunken-driving suspect, Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966). In each of these cases, the question was whether
the totality of the circumstances justified a particular sort of search or seizure.
The same balancing process applied in the cases cited above demonstrates that, notwithstanding probable cause to seize a suspect, an officer may not always do so by killing him. The intrusiveness of a seizure by means of deadly force is unmatched. The suspect's fundamental interest in his own life need not be elaborated upon. The use of deadly force also frustrates the interest of the individual, and of society, in judicial determination of guilt and punishment. Against these interests are ranged governmental interests in effective law enforcement.*fn8 It is argued that overall violence will be reduced by encouraging the peaceful submission of suspects who know that they may be shot if they flee. Effectiveness in making arrests requires the resort to deadly
force, or at least the meaningful threat thereof. "Being able to arrest such individuals is a condition precedent to the state's entire system of law enforcement." Brief for Petitioners 14.
Without in any way disparaging the importance of these goals, we are not convinced that the use of deadly force is a sufficiently productive means of accomplishing them to justify the killing of nonviolent suspects. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, supra, at 659. The use of deadly force is a self-defeating way of apprehending a suspect and so setting the criminal justice mechanism in motion. If successful, it guarantees that that mechanism will not be set in motion. And while the meaningful threat of deadly force might be thought to lead to the arrest of more live suspects by discouraging escape attempts,*fn9 the presently available evidence does not support this thesis.*fn10 The fact is that a majority of police departments
in this country have forbidden the use of deadly force against nonviolent suspects. See infra, at 18-19. If those charged with the enforcement of the criminal law have abjured the use of deadly force in arresting nondangerous felons, there is a substantial basis for doubting that the use of such force is an essential attribute of the arrest power in all felony cases. See Schumann v. McGinn, 307 Minn. 446, 472, 240 N. W. 2d 525, 540 (1976) (Rogosheske, J., dissenting in part). Petitioners and appellant have not persuaded us that shooting nondangerous fleeing suspects is so vital as to outweigh the suspect's interest in his own life.
The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, ...