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Nick Chiarkas on the Police Use of Deadly Force

Nick Chiarkas is the author of Weepers and Nunzio’s Way. You can find out more about him on his website,, or by clicking here. See his last post here, and buy his books here.

On May 4 – 5, 2023, I was a speaker at the Lakefly Writers Conference, where I discussed writing a Crime Thriller/Mystery.

At a sidebar later in the day, I was asked about the use of deadly force by the police from a writer’s standpoint. (This might also be helpful for all of us to know). The discussion veered from my writing to my police experience. Specifically, I was asked, “When ‘can’ a police officer use deadly force?” I responded, “The right question is when ‘must’ a police officer use deadly force.

A Police officer must consider the following: Are innocent bystanders in harm’s way? Did the suspect use deadly force? If the suspect gets away, will that result in injury or death to others? The “objective reasonableness” standard is a balance between the rights of the person being arrested and the government interest that allows enough force to overcome resistance.

Deadly force is an option only when it is believed that no other action will succeed. And the officer must consider the severity of the offense, how much of a threat the suspect poses, and the suspect’s attempts to resist or flee.

If a misdemeanor. Police may shoot only in self-defense or defense of others. In the case of a felony, the police may use all necessary force (even deadly) to overcome resistance. As to a fleeing felon, the Supreme Court in Tennessee v Garner (1985) ruled it violates the 4th Amendment for a police officer to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon suspect who is nonviolent and unarmed.

I hope this helps.

Nick Chiarkas

Nick Chiarkas is the author of the (multi)award-winning novel WEEPERS. You can find out more about her on his website,

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Vick

    I was just discussing this with my brother yesterday. How many nuances there are and how quickly those decisions must be made. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Avatar

    I’m glad you were asked that question, Nick, and glad you shared your answer here. The concept of deadly force may be an interesting debate in certain circles these days, but for police officers and felons, in the heat of confrontation, there is no debating. Wrongdoers need to know that resisting arrest and jeopardizing innocent bystanders will lead to strong police action. Police need to know that their split-second judgment to use deadly force will be scrutinized. In the end, public safety and the welfare of many has to trump everything else.

    1. Joy Ann Ribar
      Joy Ann Ribar

      This is so helpful to those of us outside the profession. It’s important that citizens understand police follow a code of conduct, and it’s good for crime writers and readers to understand the reality vs. fictional aspects of crime.

  3. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    Thanks so much, Nick! This is very helpful.

  4. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Succinct and useful information from someone who knows the laws. Thanks for your expertise, Nick.

  5. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    Definitely one of those hot-button issues with no simple or clear answers. Thanks, Nick.

  6. tracey64p

    Thanks for sharing your expertise, Nick. I agree with Anne, it’s a hot issue, and not one to be taken lightly by authors. I hope your post helps other writers to make the right choice when writing about it.

    1. Nicholas Chiarkas
      Nicholas Chiarkas

      Thanks, Tracey

  7. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    Good info, thanks!

  8. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Nick — Thank you for sharing your born-from-experience knowledge!

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