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Lawful Arrest or Keeping the Peace



This section really has to do with law enforcement officers when they have to use deadly force and they end up killing somebody and then the prosecutors are thinking about charging them with murder, they can assert the defense that they were making a lawful arrest or keeping the peace.

The law basically says — this is the jury instruction — homicide is justifiable and not unlawful when necessarily committed at attempting by lawful ways and means to apprehend any dangerous person who has committed a felony.

What is a Dangerous Person?

A dangerous person is one who (a) poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to the person attempting apprehension or to others; or (b) has committed a forcible and atrocious felony.

So, this is a situation where let’s say somebody rapes another person and the police come on the scene and the person is running away.  The police use deadly force and kill that person and now the prosecutors are saying well, the person was unarmed.

Why did you use deadly force?  The police are going to say because the person just committed an atrocious crime.  They just raped another person and I wasn’t going to let him get away, or the better and more powerful argument is, that the person was armed with a weapon, and as they’re getting away they may shoot another law enforcement officer who’s coming on scene.  That might justify the use of deadly force.

This is a very slippery slope though.  There used to be a case years ago where a citizen could actually use deadly force if they were trying to apprehend somebody who is a fleeing felon.  They got rid of that case though.  Too dangerous.  Too ripe for problems to occur.

Lawful Performance by a Peace Officer

I’m seeing more and more now, because I’ve done a lot of murder cases and I’ve defended a lot of law enforcement officers, this situation is going to come up, especially with a video because people are actually video taping killings on the news all the time in Los Angeles county and across the country.California Murder Defense - Lawful Arrest or Keeping the Peace

Of course, a lot of times those videos only have one little segment about what happened and don’t have the whole back story about what’s going on, so it looks like the officers are not being lawful when they shoot and kill somebody.

When in actuality, the person has committed some serious felony, has threatened the officers, may be armed with a knife or armed with a gun and the public just doesn’t know.  All they’re doing is seeing this flash video.

Law enforcement officers are in very difficult situations when they’re shown video tape and trained that if they don’t act when somebody has a gun or a knife and is out of control, then they themselves could end up getting killed or somebody in the vicinity of that dangerous person could get killed.

When you’re put on the spot, when your adrenaline is pumping, when you’re trained to use a gun and you’re coming on a crazy scene and you’re giving somebody lawful commands and that person is ignoring what you’re saying and you know you have back information that person might be dangerous, might be arms, might have hurt somebody — that really puts you in a bad position as a law enforcement officer.

Justified Use of Deadly Force by Police

So, this jury instruction that I indicated above really has more to do with police versus the public and case law basically says that if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.

Then, deadly force, may be used if necessary to prevent escape and if where feasible, some warning has been given — sometimes these people who are committing these horrible crimes and are trying to get away — the police don’t have to just let them get away.  Under the right circumstances, the police are allowed to use deadly force to stop somebody in this circumstance from escaping.

So, if you’re a police officer and are charged with some sort of murder offense in Los Angeles county and you’re looking for a criminal defense attorney who has experience with this argument and experience with this defense, understands how to win a criminal case, understands the pressures that you are under as a law enforcement officer and knows how to make a powerful argument to a jury, pick up the phone.  Make the call.  I stand ready to assist you.

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Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

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