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Is Police Excessive Force considered Battery?

This content about excessive force was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

When filing a lawsuit, depending on the case, an excessive force lawyer could also claim battery. To better understand how these terms relate, let’s first look at their definitions.

What is Excessive Force?

Under federal law, the specific definition of excessive force doesn’t exist. Courts and juries have to decide on whether the use of force by a police officer was excessive by comparing what a reasonable police officer in the same (or similar) circumstance would have done, and if the amount of force would be the same.

Some scenarios the jury takes into consideration to rule excessive force use are if the suspect was:

  • Resisting arrest
  • Trying to escape
  • Using physical force on the officers
  • Putting the officers at significant risk of injuries or death

Given any of those circumstances, a police officer is allowed to use force, but how much force can they justify using depends entirely on the circumstances.

There are cases where the suspect wasn’t resisting or posing a threat to the officer, but they still used force excessively; when this happens, the suspect can hire an excessive force lawyer to file a case.

Though there is federal law definition for it, legal dictionaries like the one from Cornell Law School do have an entry on excessive force.

Cornell’s definition reads: “Excessive force refers to force in excess of what a police officer reasonably believes is necessary. A police officer may be held liable for using excessive force in an arrest, an investigatory stop, or other seizures. A police officer may also be liable for not preventing another police officer from using excessive force.”

What is Battery?

In the act of physical violence against a person, as Cornell’s law encyclopedia points out, battery refers to the actual act causing physical harm. In contrast, assault refers to the action which causes the victim to apprehend imminent bodily harm. The definition of Battery by Cornell also divides it by criminal and tort law:

  1. In criminal law, this is a physical act that results in harmful or offensive contact with another person without that person’s consent.
  2. In tort law, the intentional causation of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without that person’s consent.

Put simply, battery as a tort is a civil wrong where a person intentionally makes offensive physical contact with another person without the other person’s consent. The contact could be with an individual’s body directly, the person’s clothing, or some other item closely related to the individual.

Is Excessive Force a Battery?

Yes, law enforcement officers’ use of excessive force is often considered a type of battery. Depending on the law used (state or federal), the claim is either “battery” or “excessive force.” Meaning that if a person sues for police brutality using state law, it’s referred to as a battery.

An experienced excessive force lawyer should know the best way to file the case. “Privilege” is one defense to a battery claim. As noted by Nolo, “a battery is privileged if the physical contact equaled a reasonable amount of force during the course of an arrest. Since the underlying facts and considerations would be the same, a plaintiff will usually win both excessive force and battery claims, or lose both claims.”

Sources:

Nolo, Cornell(1), Cornell(2)

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Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content about excessive force was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.