Use of Force and the Constitution

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U.S. Constitution and Use of Force
David Baxter
CJ400 Constitutional Law in Criminal Justice
Park College
September 25th, 2010

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Ideologies Affecting Police Use of Force 4-6
Public Climate Regarding Use of Force 6-8
Law Enforcement’s Position Regarding Use of Force 8-12
Societal Implications 12-13

References 14-15

The prison escapee broke into the house while the owner was away and stole some food, pain pills, and a loaded handgun. During the night, he dodged the sounds of hounds approaching. He was dead set on getting away at any cost, even if it meant he had to kill an approaching officer. After a few days, the officers finally had him cornered, he had nowhere to run. The run from the law that had started with a break from prison was about to end on a city street. The man on the run sees the officers in broad daylight and as he turns to run, he is met by a hail of gun fire and falls over dead. At the scene, law enforcement quickly converges on the scene, trying to keep onlookers away. It is determined that the man was shot by as many as 17 rounds, but there is no public outcry, no claim of excessive force, and no one suing the officers. The story illustrates a use of police force in America, at a different time, a time when the United States Constitution was still young and the political scales was tipped toward justice, preservation of peace for the community, and punishment for those who breached that peace. How the times have changed, the political correctness that exists in our modern times shows a societal shift of epic proportions, for the safety and greater good of society has been trumped by the rights of individuals and the due process of the law . There are many issues that come to mind when thinking about police use of force, the Constitution, and the political and societal climate of today. This work seeks to examine four matters in which the U.S. Constitution has played an important part in defining and creating: 1) Ideologies affecting police use of force.

2) Public climate regarding use of force.
3) Law enforcement’s position regarding use of force. 4) Societal implications.
Ideologies Affecting Police Use of Force
The U.S. Constitution was created by the people, for the people. Regardless, the founding fathers of this country saw fit to adopt many of the century old practices and laws of their common law brethren. Whether done out of respect, need, or reasons unknown, the Constitution is the successor, however evolved, of the laws that governed England. The idea of individual liberty and the effect of governmental intrusion were stated best in a speech by President Woodrow Wilson: Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it (Woodrow Wilson, speech, Sep. 1912). While the government can intrude on individual rights, it is up to the people to ensure that certain rights are protected from such intrusions. The Constitution has attempted to keep with the aforementioned ideology, but it has seen many changes since the inception of this country. No changes have been more apparent within our society than the changing ideas of police use of force. As early as the twelfth century, common law allowed the use of deadly force to capture a felony suspect (Amendment IV to the Constitution, West Encyclopedia of American law, as cited in This law was in place for several reasons. The main reason was because not many felonies were committed at that time and the ones that were, were usually punishable by...
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