New 2020 California Law Restricts Police Use of Lethal Force

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Until recently, California police officers were allowed to use deadly force when it was deemed “reasonable” to do so by a peace officer for the purpose of law enforcement in a given situation. However, a new California law, in effect as of January 1, 2020, allows police to use deadly force only when “necessary.”

The longstanding police use-of-force laws in California and throughout America focus on whether the police officer acted reasonably at the exact moment that they used lethal force. This standard has always been subjective. The situation is typically seen through the police officer’s eyes, even if he or she was wrong in their assessment of the level of danger.

Now the legitimacy of the police’s use of deadly force in California is determined by looking at the totality of the circumstances that lead to the use of deadly force. We no longer just look at the exact moment. We now look at what chain of events lead to the lethal moment. What did the police officer do? What did the victim do? Were there non-lethal force options available? What was the officer trained to do that he or she did not do in that particular situation?

The hope, of course, is that this will lead to police being better trained in de-escalation methods with the expectation that peace officers use non-lethal force whenever possible. Deadly force should be the last resort.

Studies show that black boys and men are far more likely to be killed by police than their counterparts of any other ethnicity. Black boys and men have a 1 in 1000 chance of being killed by police. For white boys and men, the odds are 0.39 in 1000. This new law certainly does not solve the problem of black boys and men being subject to more police scrutiny, arrests, general hassling and violence. Yet it is a sign that lawmakers are finally starting to address these issues with new laws.

As a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, I see the racial disparities in the criminal justice system every day, so the fact that significant steps are being taken to address the issue of police violence is welcome news. It is obviously too soon to know whether this law will result in police being prosecuted for using unnecessary deadly force. Ideally, this new law will serve as an incentive for police agencies to better train their officers, become more aware of their own biases and take responsibility for their own conduct. Curing racial disparities in law enforcement is a long road, but the purpose of the new law is not to prosecute more police officers. The purpose is for better trained police to do their job more safely without killing as many citizens.

If you have questions about the new law or are facing charges in California, do not hesitate to contact criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg in Los Angeles at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page for a confidential consultation.

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