Missouri's Rule on Deadly Force by Cops

Missouri's Rule on Deadly Force by Cops

As new facts come to light about the interaction that led to Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson, a major question is whether the police officer, Darren Wilson, broke the law. As Peter Suderman points out at Reason (citing a tweet from Sean Davis of The Federalist), Missouri appears to have a very lax standard for the use of deadly force by officers:

A law enforcement officer in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody is justified in using deadly force only

(1) When such is authorized under other sections of this chapter; or

(2) When he reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested

(a) Has committed or attempted to commit a felony; or

(b) Is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon; or

(c) May otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.

4. The defendant shall have the burden of injecting the issue of justification under this section.

This is essentially the "fleeing felon" rule that was widely used in the U.S. for many decades -- but the Supreme Court struck it down in the mid-1980s. Now, police officers are allowed to use deadly force against a fleeing felon only if they have reason to believe the felon is dangerous. Missouri may not have changed the text of its law to reflect the ruling, but the ruling still applies.

We can see how these cases actually play out in Missouri by looking at the officially approved jury instructions. Obnoxiously, the state doesn't make those instructions available publicly for free, but here's a citation of the relevant provision in a Springfield Police Department document:

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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