GRAHAM v. CONNOR
GRAHAM v. CONNOR
490 U.S. 386 (1989)
GRAHAM v. CONNOR ET AL.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued February 21, 1989
Decided May 15, 1989
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Attorney(s) appearing for the Case
H. Gerald Beaver argued the cause for petitioner. On the briefs was Richard B. Glazier.
Mark I. Levy argued the cause for respondents. On the brief was Frank B. Aycock III.
Lacy H. Thornburg, Attorney General of North Carolina, Isaac T. Avery III, Special Deputy Attorney General, and Linda Anne Morris, Assistant
Attorney General, filed a brief for the State of North Carolina as amicus curiae urging affirmance.
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to decide what constitutional standard governs a free citizen’s claim that law enforcement officials used
excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of his person. We hold that such claims are
properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard, rather than under a substantive due process
In this action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, petitioner Dethorne Graham seeks to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained when law
enforcement officers used physical force against him during the course of an investigatory stop. Because the case comes to us from a
decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the entry of a directed verdict for respondents, we take the evidence hereafter noted in the
light most favorable to petitioner. On November 12, 1984, Graham, a diabetic, felt the onset of an insulin reaction. He asked a friend,
William Berry, to drive him to a nearby convenience store so he could purchase some orange juice to counteract the reaction. Berry
agreed, but when Graham entered the store, he saw a number of people ahead of him in the checkout
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line. Concerned about the delay, he hurried out of the store and asked Berry to drive him to a friend’s house instead.
Respondent Connor, an officer of the Charlotte, North Carolina, Police Department, saw Graham hastily enter and leave the store. The
officer became suspicious that something was amiss and followed Berry’s car. About one-half mile from the store, he made an
investigative stop. Although Berry told Connor that Graham was simply suffering from a “sugar reaction,” the officer ordered Berry
and Graham to wait while he found out what, if anything, had happened at the convenience store. When Officer Connor returned to his
patrol car to call for backup assistance, Graham got out of the car, ran around it twice, and finally sat down on the curb, where he
passed out briefly.
In the ensuing confusion, a number of other Charlotte police officers arrived on the scene in response to Officer Connor’s request for
backup. One of the officers rolled Graham over on the sidewalk and cuffed his hands tightly behind his back, ignoring Berry’s pleas to
get him some sugar. Another officer said: “I’ve seen a lot of people with sugar diabetes that never acted like this. Ain’t nothing wrong
with the M. F. but drunk. Lock the S. B. up.” App. 42. Several officers then lifted Graham up from behind, carried him over to Berry’s
car, and placed him face down on its hood. Regaining consciousness, Graham asked the officers to check in his wallet for a diabetic
decal that he carried. In response, one of the officers told him to “shut up” and shoved his face down against the hood of the car. Four
officers grabbed Graham and threw him headfirst into the police car. A friend of Graham’s brought some orange juice to the car, but
the officers refused to let him have it. Finally, Officer Connor received a report that Graham had done nothing wrong at the
convenience store, and the officers drove him home and released him.
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At some point during his encounter with the police, Graham sustained a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead, and an injured
shoulder; he also claims to have developed a loud ringing in his right ear that continues to this day. He commenced this action under 42 U. S. C. §
1983 against the individual officers involved in the incident, all of whom are respondents here, alleging that they had used excessive force in
making the investigatory stop, in violation of “rights secured to him under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.
S. C. § 1983.” Complaint ¶ 10, App. 5. The case was tried before a jury. At the close of petitioner’s evidence, respondents moved for a directed
verdict. In ruling on that motion, the District Court considered the following four factors, which it identified as “[t]he factors to be considered in
determining when the excessive use of force gives rise to a cause of action under § 1983”: (1) the need for the application of force; (2) the
relationship between that need and the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of the injury inflicted; and (4) “[w]hether the force was
applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” 644 F.Supp.
246, 248 (WDNC 1986). Finding that the amount of force used by the officers was “appropriate under the circumstances,” that “[t]here was no
discernable injury inflicted,” and that the force used “was not applied maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm,” but in “a
good faith effort to maintain or restore order in the face of a potentially explosive situation.” id., at 248-249, the District Court granted
respondents’ motion for a directed verdict.
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. 827 F.2d 945 (1987). The majority ruled first that the District
Court had applied the correct legal standard in assessing petitioner’s excessive force claim. Id., at 948-949. Without attempting to
identify the specific constitutional provision under which that claim arose, the majority endorsed the four-factor test applied by the
District Court as generally applicable to all claims of “constitutionally excessive force” brought against governmental officials. Id., at
948. The majority rejected petitioner’s argument, based on Circuit precedent, that it was error to require him to prove that the
allegedly excessive force used against him was applied “maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Ibid.
Finally, the majority held that a reasonable jury applying the four-part test it had just endorsed
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to petitioner’s evidence “could not find that the force applied was constitutionally excessive.” Id., at 949-950. The dissenting judge argued that
this Court’s decisions in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), required that excessive force claims arising out
of investigatory stops be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard. 827 F. 2d, at 950-952. We granted
certiorari, 488 U.S. 816 (1988), and now reverse.
Fifteen years ago, in Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1033 (1973), the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
addressed a § 1983 damages claim filed by a pretrial detainee who claimed that a guard had assaulted him without justification. In
evaluating the detainee’s claim, Judge Friendly applied neither the Fourth Amendment nor the Eighth, the two most textually obvious
sources of constitutional protection against physically abusive governmental conduct. Instead, he looked to “substantive due
process,” holding that “quite apart from any `specific’ of the Bill of Rights, application of undue force by
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law enforcement officers deprives a suspect of liberty without due process of law.” 481 F. 2d, at 1032. As support for this proposition, he relied upon
our decision in Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952), which used the Due Process Clause to void a state criminal conviction based on evidence
obtained by pumping the defendant’s stomach. 481 F. 2d, at 1032-1033. If a police officer’s use of force which “shocks the conscience” could justify
setting aside a criminal conviction, Judge Friendly reasoned, a correctional officer’s use of similarly excessive force must give rise to a due process
violation actionable under § 1983. Ibid. Judge Friendly went on to set forth four factors to guide courts in determining “whether the constitutional
line has been crossed” by a particular use of force — the same four factors relied upon by the courts below in this case. Id., at 1033.
In the years following Johnson v. Glick, the vast majority of lower federal courts have applied its four-part “substantive due process”
test indiscriminately to all excessive force claims lodged against law enforcement and prison officials under § 1983, without
considering whether the particular application of force might implicate a more specific constitutional right governed by a different
standard. Indeed, many courts have seemed to assume, as did the courts below in this case, that there is a generic “right” to be free
from excessive force, grounded not in any particular constitutional provision but rather in “basic principles of § 1983 jurisprudence.”
We reject this notion that all excessive force claims brought under § 1983 are governed by a single generic standard. As we have said
many times, § 1983 “is not itself a
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source of substantive rights,” but merely provides “a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137,
144, n. 3 (1979). In addressing an excessive force claim brought under § 1983, analysis begins by identifying the specific constitutional right
allegedly infringed by the challenged application of force. See id., at 140 (“The first inquiry in any § 1983 suit” is “to isolate the precise
constitutional violation with which [the defendant] is charged”). In most instances, that will be either the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition
against unreasonable seizures of the person, or the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments, which are the two primary
sources of constitutional protection against physically abusive governmental conduct. The validity of the claim must then be judged by reference to
the specific constitutional standard which governs that right, rather than to some generalized “excessive force” standard. See Tennessee v. Garner,
supra, at 7-22 (claim of excessive force to effect arrest analyzed under a Fourth Amendment standard); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 318-326
(1986) (claim of excessive force to subdue convicted prisoner analyzed under an Eighth Amendment standard).
Where, as here, the excessive force claim arises in the context of an arrest or investigatory stop of a free citizen, it is most properly
characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right “to be secure in their
persons . . . against unreasonable. . . seizures” of the person. This much is clear from our decision in Tennessee v. Garner, supra. In
Garner, we addressed a claim that the use of deadly force to apprehend a fleeing suspect who did not appear to be armed or otherwise
dangerous violated the suspect’s constitutional rights, notwithstanding the existence of probable cause to arrest.
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Though the complaint alleged violations of both the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, see 471 U. S., at 5, we analyzed the
constitutionality of the challenged application of force solely by reference to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures of
the person, holding that the “reasonableness” of a particular seizure depends not only on when it is made, but also on how it is carried out. Id., at
7-8. Today we make explicit what was implicit in Garner’s analysis, and hold that all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive
force — deadly or not — in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth
Amendment and its “reasonableness” standard, rather than under a “substantive due process” approach. Because the Fourth Amendment provides
an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against this sort of physically intrusive governmental conduct, that Amendment, not the
more generalized notion of “substantive due process,” must be the guide for analyzing these claims.
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Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ”
`the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests’ ” against the countervailing governmental interests at
stake. Id., at 8, quoting United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703 (1983). Our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to
make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it. See
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S., at 22-27. Because “[t]he test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or
mechanical application,” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979), however, its proper application requires careful attention to the facts and
circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of
the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. See Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U. S., at 8-9
(the question is “whether the totality of the circumstances justifie[s] a particular sort of . . . seizure”).
The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than
with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. See Terry v. Ohio, supra, at 20-22. The Fourth Amendment is not violated by an arrest based on
probable cause, even though the wrong person is arrested, Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797 (1971), nor by the mistaken execution of a
valid search warrant on the wrong premises, Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79 (1987). With respect to a claim of excessive force, the
same standard of reasonableness at the moment applies: “Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace
of a judge’s chambers,” Johnson v. Glick, 481 F. 2d, at 1033, violates the Fourth Amendment. The calculus of reasonableness must
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allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and
rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.
As in other Fourth Amendment contexts, however, the “reasonableness” inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the
question is whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them,
without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. See Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 137-139 (1978); see also Terry v. Ohio,
supra, at 21 (in analyzing the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure, “it is imperative that the facts be judged against an
objective standard”). An officer’s evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of
force; nor will an officer’s good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional. See Scott v. United States,
supra, at 138, citing United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973).
Because petitioner’s excessive force claim is one arising under the Fourth Amendment, the Court of Appeals erred in analyzing it
under the four-part Johnson v. Glick test. That test, which requires consideration of whether the individual officers acted in “good
faith” or “maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm,” is incompatible with a proper Fourth Amendment
analysis. We do not agree with the Court of Appeals’ suggestion, see 827 F. 2d, at 948, that the “malicious and sadistic” inquiry is
merely another way of describing conduct that is objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. Whatever the empirical
correlations between “malicious and sadistic” behavior and objective unreasonableness may be, the fact remains that the “malicious
and sadistic” factor puts in issue the subjective motivations of the individual officers, which our prior cases make clear has no bearing
on whether a particular seizure is “unreasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. Nor do we agree with the
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Court of Appeals’ conclusion, see id., at 948, n. 3, that because the subjective motivations of the individual officers are of central importance in
deciding whether force used against a convicted prisoner violates the Eighth Amendment, see Whitley v. Albers, 475 U. S., at 320-321, it cannot be
reversible error to inquire into them in deciding whether force used against a suspect or arrestee violates the Fourth Amendment. Differing
standards under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments are hardly surprising: the terms “cruel” and “punishments” clearly suggest some inquiry into
subjective state of mind, whereas the term “unreasonable” does not. Moreover, the less protective Eighth Amendment standard applies “only after
the State has complied with the constitutional guarantees traditionally associated with criminal prosecutions.” Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651,
671, n. 40 (1977). The Fourth Amendment inquiry is one of “objective reasonableness” under the circumstances, and subjective concepts like
“malice” and “sadism” have no proper place in that inquiry.
Because the Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court’s ruling on the motion for directed verdict under an erroneous view of the
governing substantive law, its judgment must be vacated and the case remanded to that court for reconsideration of that issue under
the proper Fourth Amendment standard.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, concurring in part and concurring in the
I join the Court’s opinion insofar as it rules that the Fourth Amendment is the primary tool for analyzing claims of excessive force in
the prearrest context, and I concur in the judgment remanding the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration of the evidence
under a reasonableness standard. In light of respondents’ concession, however, that the pleadings in this case properly may be
construed as raising a Fourth Amendment claim, see Brief for Respondents 3, I see no reason for the Court to find it necessary further
to reach out to decide that prearrest excessive force claims are to be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment rather than under a
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substantive due process standard. I also see no basis for the Court’s suggestion, ante, at 395, that our decision in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1
(1985), implicitly so held. Nowhere in Garner is a substantive due process standard for evaluating the use of excessive force in a particular case
discussed; there is no suggestion that such a standard was offered as an alternative and rejected.
In this case, petitioner apparently decided that it was in his best interest to disavow the continued applicability of substantive due
process analysis as an alternative basis for recovery in prearrest excessive force cases. See Brief for Petitioner 20. His choice was
certainly wise as a matter of litigation strategy in his own case, but does not (indeed, cannot be expected to) serve other potential
plaintiffs equally well. It is for that reason that the Court would have done better to leave that question for another day. I expect that
the use of force that is not demonstrably unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment only rarely will raise substantive due process
concerns. But until I am faced with a case in which that question is squarely raised, and its merits are subjected to adversary
presentation, I do not join in foreclosing the use of substantive due process analysis in prearrest cases.
* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Fried, Assistant Attorney General Reynolds, Deputy
Assistant Attorney General Clegg, David L. Shapiro, Brian J. Martin, and David K. Flynn; and for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven
1. Also named as a defendant was the city of Charlotte, which employed the individual respondents. The District Court granted a directed verdict for
the city, and petitioner did not challenge that ruling before the Court of Appeals. Accordingly, the city is not a party to the proceedings before this
2. Petitioner also asserted pendent state-law claims of assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Those claims
have been dismissed from the case and are not before this Court.
3. The majority did note that because Graham was not an incarcerated prisoner, “his complaint of excessive force did not, therefore, arise under the
eighth amendment.” 827 F. 2d, at 948, n. 3. However, it made no further effort to identify the constitutional basis for his claim.
4. Petitioner’s argument was based primarily on Kidd v. O’Neil, 774 F.2d 1252 (CA4 1985), which read this Court’s decision in Tennessee v. Garner,
471 U.S. 1 (1985), as mandating application of a Fourth Amendment “objective reasonableness” standard to claims of excessive force during arrest.
See 774 F. 2d, at 1254-1257. The reasoning of Kidd was subsequently rejected by the en banc Fourth Circuit in Justice v. Dennis, 834 F.2d 380, 383
(1987), cert. pending, No. 87-1422.
5. The majority noted that in Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312 (1986), we held that the question whether physical force used against convicted
prisoners in the course of quelling a prison riot violates the Eighth Amendment “ultimately turns on `whether force was applied in a good faith
effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.’ ” 827 F. 2d, at 948, n. 3, quoting
Whitley v. Albers, supra, at 320-321. Though the Court of Appeals acknowledged that petitioner was not a convicted prisoner, it thought it
“unreasonable . . . to suggest that a conceptual factor could be central to one type of excessive force claim but reversible error when merely
considered by the court in another context.” 827 F. 2d, at 948, n. 3.
6. Judge Friendly did not apply the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause to the detainee’s claim for two reasons. First, he
thought that the Eighth Amendment’s protections did not attach until after conviction and sentence. 481 F. 2d, at 1032. This view was confirmed by
Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671, n. 40 (1977) (“Eighth Amendment scrutiny is appropriate only after the State has complied with the
constitutional guarantees traditionally associated with criminal prosecutions”). Second, he expressed doubt whether a “spontaneous attack” by a
prison guard, done without the authorization of prison officials, fell within the traditional Eighth Amendment definition of “punishments.” 481 F.
2d, at 1032. Although Judge Friendly gave no reason for not analyzing the detainee’s claim under the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against
“unreasonable . . . seizures” of the person, his refusal to do so was apparently based on a belief that the protections of the Fourth Amendment did
not extend to pretrial detainees. See id., at 1033 (noting that “most of the courts faced with challenges to the conditions of pretrial detention have
primarily based their analysis directly on the due process clause”). See n. 10, infra.
7. See Freyermuth, Rethinking Excessive Force, 1987 Duke L. J. 692, 694-696, and nn. 16-23 (1987) (collecting cases).
8. See Justice v. Dennis, supra, at 382 (“There are . . . certain basic principles in section 1983 jurisprudence as it relates to claims of excessive force
that are beyond question [,] [w]hether the factual circumstances involve an arrestee, a pretrial detainee or a prisoner”).
9. The same analysis applies to excessive force claims brought against federal law enforcement and correctional officials under Bivens v. Six
Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
10. A “seizure” triggering the Fourth Amendment’s protections occurs only when government actors have, “by means of physical force or show of
authority, . . . in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen,” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19, n. 16 (1968); see Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593,
Our cases have not resolved the question whether the Fourth Amendment continues to provide individuals with protection against the
deliberate use of excessive physical force beyond the point at which arrest ends and pretrial detention begins, and we do not attempt
to answer that question today. It is clear, however, that the Due Process Clause protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive
force that amounts to punishment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-539 (1979). After conviction, the Eighth Amendment “serves
as the primary source of substantive protection . . . in cases . . . where the deliberate use of force is challenged as excessive and
unjustified.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U. S., at 327. Any protection that “substantive due process” affords convicted prisoners against
excessive force is, we have held, at best redundant of that provided by the Eighth Amendment. Ibid.
11. In Whitley, we addressed a § 1983 claim brought by a convicted prisoner, who claimed that prison officials had violated his Eighth Amendment
rights by shooting him in the knee during a prison riot. We began our Eighth Amendment analysis by reiterating the long-established maxim that
an Eighth Amendment violation requires proof of the ” ` “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” ‘ ” 475 U. S., at 319, quoting Ingraham v.
Wright, 430 U. S., at 670, in turn quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). We went on to say that when prison officials use physical force
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against an inmate “to restore order in the face of a prison disturbance, . . . the question whether the measure taken inflicted unnecessary and
wanton pain . . . ultimately turns on `whether the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and
sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.’ ” 475 U. S., at 320-321 (emphasis added), quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 F. 2d, at 1033. We also
suggested that the other prongs of the Johnson v. Glick test might be useful in analyzing excessive force claims brought under the Eighth
Amendment. 475 U. S., at 321. But we made clear that this was so not because Judge Friendly’s four-part test is some talismanic formula generally
applicable to all excessive force claims, but because its four factors help to focus the central inquiry in the Eighth Amendment context, which is
whether the particular use of force amounts to the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” See id., at 320-321. Our endorsement of the
Johnson v. Glick test in Whitley thus had no implications beyond the Eighth Amendment context.
12. Of course, in assessing the credibility of an officer’s account of the circumstances that prompted the use of force, a factfinder may consider,
along with other factors, evidence that the officer may have harbored ill-will toward the citizen. See Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 139, n. 13
(1978). Similarly, the officer’s objective “good faith” — that is, whether he could reasonably have believed that the force used did not violate the
Fourth Amendment — may be relevant to the availability of the qualified immunity defense to monetary liability under § 1983. See Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987). Since no claim of qualified immunity has been raised in this case, however, we express no view on its proper
application in excessive force cases that arise under the Fourth Amendment.