Right Hooks

Supreme Court Overturns the 'Provocation Doctrine'

SCOTUS rules that law enforcement officers have a right to self-defense, regardless of the situation's cause.

Political Editors · May 31, 2017

In an 8-0 unanimous ruling the Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez. For a little background on the issue, Angel Mendez brought the suit in 2010 after two LA County sheriff’s deputies mistakenly entered the wrong house without a search warrant and encountered Mendez and a woman. The situation quickly escalated because Mendez had a BB gun, and police shot both individuals. Both survived, but Mendez lost a leg.

The Ninth Circuit Court had ruled in Mendez’s favor based on what has become known as the “provocation doctrine,” meaning law enforcement can be held accountable for an escalation into violence if they “provoked the incident by acting in an unlawful manner prior to an encounter.” The Ninth Circuit tied its ruling to concerns over violations of the Fourth Amendment. In short, because the police violated the Fourth Amendment, they were not justified in using force after having created the situation illegally.

The Supreme Court disagreed with this decision, stating that the issue was no longer a Fourth Amendment one because the officers have a legitimate right to use lethal force when the situation demands they do so for their own protection. Justice Samuel Alito stated that the provocation doctrine “is incompatible with our excessive force jurisprudence,” adding, “The rule’s fundamental flaw is that it uses another constitutional violation to manufacture and excessive force where one would not otherwise exist.”

SCOTUS says that law enforcement officers are justified in protecting and defending themselves with lethal force in any given situation irrespective of how legitimately or illegitimately they may have arrived at said situation. In other words, the Supreme Court has ruled that this is a self-defense issue, not a Fourth Amendment issue.

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