Coles v. Eagle

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 12-05-2012
  • Case #: 11-16471
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tashima for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Claims of excessive force are reviewed using the reasonableness standard under the Fourth Amendment. In determining whether the force was reasonable, the court balances the "nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake."

Harry Coles sued Honolulu police officers, Joshua Eagle and Elton Robertson, for using excessive force when arresting him. Eagle pulled Coles over for driving a stolen car. Coles did not immediately pull over. After Coles stopped, Eagle ordered him out of the vehicle but he did not exit, claiming that he could not unlock the doors. Robertson arrived and again ordered Coles to exit. When Coles did not, Eagle smashed the driver’s side window and they pulled Coles through the window. Coles claimed they threw him on the ground and beat him repeatedly. The district court granted partial summary judgment for the officers and the jury found the officers’ conduct to be reasonable. Coles appealed both findings. Where there is a disputed material fact, the court assumes the version of the non-movant (Coles). Claims of excessive force are reviewed under the Fourth Amendment. The court must balance the individual’s interests against the government’s interests. Governmental interests are considered by looking at (1) severity of the crime, (2) immediate threat to safety of the officers, and (3) active resistance to arrest or flight. Possession of a stolen vehicle is a felony, and severe. The officers did not face an immediate threat, because they had a gun pointed at Coles and Coles’s hands were on the wheel. Coles did not try to evade the police. Failing to exit a vehicle is not resisting arrest. If Coles’s movements created an exigency for the officers, it was of their own doing because a jury could reasonably find that Coles was trying to comply with the officers’ orders to exit the vehicle. Therefore, the Court concluded that the balancing test favored Coles and a reasonable jury could find that the officers’ force was unjustified. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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