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When Can Police Legally Fire on Suspects?

A U.S. deputy marshal opened fire Monday on a man suspected of stealing a rifle from a Pinal County police officer's car.

One of the suspects was allegedly climbing out of the window of a Ford Mustang when police fired shots and wounded him, AZ Central reported. The U.S. Marshal claimed that the suspect was making "furtive movements" as he was climbing out the window, so he shot him.

This story may leave Phoenix residents wondering: When can police legally shoot a suspect?

Using Deadly Force

While local guidelines more directly inform law enforcement officers' firearm use against suspects, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that officers may open fire and use deadly force against a suspect under certain conditions. Only when a person is suspected of a severe crime, actively resisting arrest, and posing an immediate threat to officers can they open fire on a suspect.

In Phoenix, the police policy on shooting suspects is similar. Officers are allowed to use deadly force on a suspect if they believe that the suspect could cause the "infliction or threat of serious physical injury or death, and is likely to endanger human life," according to the Phoenix New Times.

Officer or not, the use of deadly force can also be warranted if you're defending yourself in dire and imminent situations from a threat of death.

Was Deadly Force Warranted?

In the U.S. Marshal's case, the agency alleges that the suspect stole a rifle from a cop car. It's likely that stealing a firearm from police constitutes a severe crime.

However, AZ Family reports that a cop car blocked one side of the suspect's Ford Mustang while the suspect allegedly climbed out of the passenger side window. As the suspect climbed out the window, U.S. Marshals fired several shots at him and injured him.

Although law enforcement alleged that the suspect was making "shifty" movements as he was getting out of the car, there may be a question as to whether he was resisting arrest. However, if the suspect's movements did indicate that he would be an immediate threat to officers, then the U.S. Marshal may have been legally justified in shooting him.

The suspect was taken to the hospital following the shooting, reports AZ Family. No law enforcement officers were injured.

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