Each year claimants file thousands of section 1983 actions against law enforcement or prison officials. Many of these claimants allege that officials used excessive force against them in violation of their constitutional rights. Despite the large number of excessive force cases in the federal courts, however, the Supreme Court has decided only two excessive force cases brought under section 1983. In Whitley v. Albers, the Court elaborated the appropriate standard for determining whether the shooting of a prisoner violated the eighth amendment. In Tennessee v. Garner, the Court applied the fourth amendment to strike down a Tennessee statute that authorized the use of deadly force to apprehend a nondangerous fleeing suspect. In each case, the Court recognized that the application of force implicated a specific fourth or eighth amendment right and applied the standard developed to protect that right.
R. Wilson Freyermuth,
Rethinking Excessive Force, 1987 Duke Law Journal 692
Available at: https://scholarship.law.missouri.edu/facpubs/793