California Penal Code § 196 PC makes it justifiable homicide when a police officer kills a person in reasonable self-defense or defense of others. It is also justifiable homicide for police to kill a person fleeing for a violent felony if the officer reasonably believes the suspect will cause death or a serious bodily injury unless he/she is arrested right away.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
PC 196 Homicide is justifiable when committed by peace officers and those acting by their command in their aid and assistance, under either of the following circumstances:
(a) In obedience to any judgment of a competent court.
(b) When the homicide results from a peace officer’s use of force that is in compliance with Section 835a.
California Penal Code 196 PC defines when it is legal for law enforcement officers to kill. As with non-officers, police may always kill in self-defense or defense of others if the assailant presents an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. If the suspect poses no serious threat, then police may not inflict deadly force.1
Police officers also have license to kill a fleeing person if the following two conditions are met:
- The suspect is fleeing for a felony offense that caused someone to die or sustain serious bodily harm – or threatened death or serious bodily harm; and
- The officer reasonably believes the suspect will seriously harm or kill another person unless the suspect is taken into custody right away
Therefore, police would not be justified in killing a fleeing suspect whose only crime was graffiti, shoplifting, or another non-violent offense. If the totality of the circumstances indicates that the fleeing suspect poses no serious threat, then deadly force is not justified.2
When practicable, police should make reasonable efforts to identify themselves as police to fleeing suspects and to warn them that they could be shot if they do not stop fleeing. But police do not have to give these warnings if they reasonably believe the fleeing suspect is already aware of these facts.3
- California Penal Code 196 PC – Justifiable homicide by peace officers. See also Brown v. Grinder (E.D. Cal., 2019), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10236. See also Chien Van Bui v. City & County of San Francisco (N.D. Cal., 2014), 61 F. Supp. 3d 877. See also Penal Code 197 PC, Penal Code 195 PC, and Penal Code 198.5 PC.
- PC 196. PC 835a. CALCRIM No. 507.