What You Need to Know About Reasonable Force

National Police Training
July 11, 2013 — 1,576 views  
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Reasonable force is a legal term that refers to the amount of force necessary to discourage an attacker from causing harm to a person or his property, without causing a lot of injury or loss to the attacker than needed. Theoretically, the amount of force that is reasonable is the amount determined as appropriate by an impartial observer to the event, considering the circumstances.

When can it be used?

Reasonable force is allowed for a civilian or a law enforcement officer in defending against a perceived criminal threat to himself, his property, another person, to prevent a crime, or to make a lawful arrest.

During trials, reasonable force is assessed by questioning the person who used force about the circumstances that led to using force and whether the force used was necessary, provided they answer honestly. Taking the opinion of a jury to judge if the force used can be justified is also a common practice.

What does the law say about reasonable force?

Law enforcement officers are trained to make the best judgment in such cases, and need to be acutely aware of how much force is required to defuse a situation. Law enforces, as a preventive measure, are advised to use as minimal force as possible depending on the threat.

Suppose you are a law enforcer and see a store being robbed at gun point by a thug; you have to use some force to dissuade him from stealing property or potentially causing harm. In this case, the need to use force can be justifiable.

Issuing a verbal warning to the perpetrator to cease the criminal act and come under arrest peacefully is the first step. If the perpetrator does not comply, non-lethal measures to subdue and restrain him may be used. If they fire at you or threaten to injure or kill innocent bystanders, deadly force is allowed but you must always consider alternatives that cause the least damage to the person and property.

Self-Defense with Reasonable Force

If you feel yourself, your property, or another person is put in jeopardy by a person with a criminal intent, it is justifiable to use reasonable force. You must use proper judgment before resorting to force because force used that is greater than what the threat requires is considered excessive and is liable to be punished by law.

When the threat is to the life of another individual or your own, the use of lethal force is tolerated. Reasonable force is allowed only during the time of danger but not as a retaliatory measure after the event is over. It can be used as a pre-emptive measure to avoid being harmed.

As a civilian it is understandable, though not always pardonable, when the force used in self-defense becomes excessive in the event of an immediate threat where there is a lack of time to make an informed judgment on what force is reasonable.

You must be careful when resorting to force, more so as a law enforcement officer. While it can be a powerful tool to deter criminal activities, there is also a possibility to get carried away by the power to use force, possibly causing more injustice by the use of that force than not using it.

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