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Tennessee v. Garner

United States Supreme Court
471 U.S. 1 (1985)


Facts

In Memphis, Tennessee, police officers Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright responded to a nighttime home burglary. After the officers arrived at the residence, Wright radioed dispatch. Meanwhile Hymon went around to the rear of the house where he saw Edward Garner (defendant) running across the backyard. Garner stopped by a chain-link fence. Hymon called out, “Police, halt.” Hymon was able to see Garner and did not believe Garner had a weapon. Garner began to climb over the fence. Hymon fired his gun, and the bullet struck Garner in the back of the head. Garner later died at the hospital. A Tennessee statute provides that “if, after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, [the defendant] either flee[s] or forcibly resist[s], the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.” Tenn. Code Ann. 40-7-108 (1982). The police review board and grand jury declined to take criminal or civil action against Hymon or the police department. Garner’s father sued Hymon, the police department, the director, the city, and the mayor in federal court, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Garner’s civil rights. The district court found for the defendants, and Garner’s father appealed. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case, reasoning that the killing of a fleeing suspect was a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment and was only constitutional if “reasonable.” The State of Tennessee intervened in the action to defend its law, and the United States Supreme Court granted the state’s petition for certiorari.

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Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

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Dissent (O’Connor, J.)

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