U.S. Supreme Court Rejects the Provocation Rule in Excessive Force Lawsuits

The case involved officers who entered a home without a warrant, perceived a threat, and opened fire.

In the spring of 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court did away with a Fourth Amendment doctrine known as the provocation rule. The rule applied in some courts in lawsuits alleging excessive police force. It allowed a plaintiff to win if officers had violated the Fourth Amendment and intentionally or recklessly provoked a violent confrontation that led to them reasonably using force.

The case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, involved officers who violated the Fourth Amendment in the lead-up to an encounter with a man and woman in a home. ((2017) 581 U. S. ____.) At the moment they used force, using force was reasonable, according to the courts. But the officers violated the law in entering the home without a warrant. (They also didn't knock and announce themselves.)

The Supreme Court Justices unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs couldn't win on the basis of the provocation rule, because, they said, there isn't any basis for the rule. The Justices didn't, however, say that the plaintiffs couldn't win on a different basis. For much more on the case, see this article on the provocation rule.

Effective date: May 30, 2017