Deadly force, also known as lethal force, is force committed by a law enforcement agent that could potentially cause serious bodily injury or even death.

Typical examples of deadly force include using a deadly weapon to subdue a perpetrator of a criminal act, or even firing a gun in order to stop a perpetrator.

The use of deadly force must be justified under the conditions and only can be used in extreme conditions of necessity, where lesser means of force are inadequate and cannot be employed.

What are Deadly Force Laws?

Deadly force laws define the circumstances in which the use of deadly force is legal. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has a statute for deadly force that sets the standard for law enforcement agents who use deadly force.

The statute dictates that law enforcement agents cannot use deadly force based on a perpetrator’s religion, gender, nationality, race, or any other discriminatory factor.

When Can Deadly Force Be Used by Police Officers?

Pursuant to the FBI Statute, police officers can use deadly force in any of the following circumstances:

  • To stop an offender from putting other people’s lives in danger by using explosives
  • In self-defense if there is an immediate danger either to the officer or an innocent bystander
  • In order to subdue an offender who has explosives
  • To prevent sabotage, theft, or an offender attempting to control a site that contains nuclear material

Before deadly force is used, the officer must use verbal commands to warn the suspect to stop.

Can Non-Officers Use Deadly Force?

Generally, no. Deadly force laws only relate to the use of force by police officers. However, non-officers are allowed to use self-defense as an answer to a charge of violent crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from an attack by an aggressor.

Self-defense is only applicable if the defender has reason to believe that he or his family members are in immediate danger. Using lethal force in defense of yourself must match the force used by the perpetrator; it cannot be an excuse to use excessive force.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Deadly Force Laws?

Deadly force laws can be widely different from state to state. However, such laws are very important, because they often define the limits of how much physical force a police officer can lawfully use under given conditions.

If you need help with the deadly force laws in your area, you should speak with a local criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your attorney will be able to explain your legal options and what course of action you should take.