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The Use of Taser as a Non-Lethal Weapon: Aspects of Tasers Use

Recently, the police have been under massive pressure due to what is termed as the use of extreme force while apprehending suspects. This controversy is related to stun guns that police use to immobilize suspects during their arrests. Arguments from previously established evidence are made claiming that the use of stun guns by the police has adverse effects on some people who have health conditions which can result to their death. Such arguments have caused different courts to take on stern stands in regard to the use of stun guns across different parts of the country. However, the decision towards the use of stun guns as non-lethal weapons is a difficult one to make for the judges. Still, most judges have ruled that stun guns are a means of excessive force and as a result have restricted their use.

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Law enforcers have been in the spotlight in the past few years for using excessive force when making arrests of civilians. As a result, the law enforcers have had to rely on other methods to immobilize civilians during arrests. One of the common methods used by the law enforcers is the stun guns. Police use Tasers during arrests to ensure that the suspects do not run away or to immobilize a suspect resisting the arrest. However, the use of Tasers by law enforcement agencies has become a controversial issue in the implementation of criminal justice policies. As a result, several questions have been raised including the extent to which the use of stun guns should be authorized. The decision on the extent of the use of stun guns is difficult to make based on the needs of all the stakeholders involved in this matter. The current paper discusses the legal implications surrounding the use of stun guns by law enforcers. 

A stun gun is a weapon that inflicts pain and disrupts the functioning of muscles while causing a minute injury by delivering an electric shock to the body of an individual. Many forms of this weapon exist including Tasers used by the police officers. Tasers, also referred to as conducted electrical weapons send projectiles that conduct the electric shock through thin wires. Other forms of Tasers create electric arcs between two electrodes and are used when the law enforcer is in close contact with the said individual. Stun guns fall into the category of the electric shock weapons. These weapons use a temporary a high voltage and a low-current to deliver an electric shock that supersedes nerves in the muscles causing a momentary incapacitation. The most effective areas to use the stun guns are the upper hip, the upper shoulder, and below the ribcage.

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Controversy

Various controversies have developed surrounding the safety of the use of stun guns, since the stun guns use electricity, and since the weapon has been dubbed ‘non-lethal.’ The controversy has emerged due to certain incidences concerning the usage of the weapon. The use of stun guns in certain situations and certain cases is inappropriate. One of the issues surrounding stun guns is the health issue. A study by the Cleveland Clinic found out that Tasers do not affect people’s heart pacemakers, and also implanted defibrillators. Another research carried out at the University of California, San Diego campus by urgent medicine physicians found out that Tasers did not have serious effects on any healthy subjects (University of California, San Diego, 2007). Consequently, Taser International claims that Tasers are better and safer to deal with suspects than other options that are forceful.

A study by Pierre Savard carried out on behalf of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBS) showed that the energy threshold needed to trigger severe ventricular fibrillation went down significantly with each repeated burst of pulses (Mayerhoff, 2005). The study also found out that in some cases, a single pulse was enough to generate energy to cause severe ventricular fibrillation. Additionally, the energy threshold for women was lesser than that of men. Several concerns have been raised about the use of Tasers due to resulting deaths around the world. One of such instances occurred in 2009 in Vancouver BC airport when an officer used a Taser on a Polish immigrant. The cause of death was documented as ‘sudden death during restraint.’ This was after the officer continually stunned the victim. Another incident happened in Sydney. During the apprehension of a Brazilian tourist the police used excessive force: pepper sprays, physical apprehension where several police officers compressed the suspect on the chest making it difficult for him to breath, and the use of several Tasers, which did not help the situation (Miller, 2012). The coroner said that the use of several Tasers was not necessary and was in that case considered as excessive force. Based on the above instances, it becomes evident that sometimes, Tasers can result in death hence being dangerous to the individuals in question.

The controversy that revolves around Tasers use by the law enforcement has been attributed to the opinion that Tasers are examples of excessive force. However, all parties involved in determining the extent to which Tasers should be used should understand several premises. The first premise is that it is better to incapacitate an individual than to kill the said person. In terms of this premise, it is better to use Tasers than guns during the apprehension of suspects. The next premise is that the use of Tasers should be allowed in cases where the protection of the law enforcer is necessary while at the same time reducing the risk of physical injury of the suspect. The last premise is that the police should have enough awareness of the effects of the use of Tasers on the suspect before they use them in practice. This means that they should be trained on the best way to use the Taser. However, the agreement on how valid these premises are does not answer the difficult question of the legality of the Tasers use by the law enforcers. Therefore, it means that people should compare several aspects before making the decision on the legality of the use of stun guns by law enforcers. The first aspect is the increased use of force: can the police use other means instead of using stun guns on a cornered suspect? Secondly, how effective are the stun guns compared to the alternatives? In this case, other alternative weapons that the police can use such as batons, pepper sprays, or guns are compared to the use of stun guns. The last aspect is the non-lethal design of the stun guns. This part checks the ethical and legal implications of using stun guns.

Legislation

Previously, no legal guidelines existed on the use of stun guns. Different judges have been forced to make decisions in various states on the legality of the use of Tasers by the law enforcers. The decision of whether the law enforcers should use stun guns is difficult for judges to make. As a result, different judgments have been made in regard to law enforcers and the use of stun guns. One of such rulings was made by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled to limit the use of stun guns by law enforcers. This ruling applies to the states in the Southeast part of the US. States including North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia find it illegal for law enforcers to use stun guns on the suspects while forcing compliance of a non-dangerous suspect (Kaste, 2016). The case was passed after an incident in Pinehurst, North Carolina. In that case, a mentally ill patient refused to go to the hospital by clinging on a signpost. To ensure that he complied, the police tasered the man five times, and a few minutes later, the man died. This ruling indicates that no law enforcer is supposed to taser any passive resistor like the mentally ill patient. Additionally, the court ruling has placed another restriction concerning the usage of Tasers. It states that unless an officer is in imminent danger, they cannot use a Taser. This decision means that in any situations that are considered low-threat, a law enforcer cannot use a Taser. As an example, it can be suggested that the officers have arrested a non-violent individual who after the arrest tries to escape. The law enforcers cannot use a Taser on such an individual. Based on this case, it is evident that some legal questions arise when it comes to the use of stun guns. As a result of certain health issues that are attributed to the use of Tasers, some judges rule against the use of stun guns.

Another ruling that only applies to the western districts of the United States was made by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling by the court is almost similar with that of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. In this ruling, the judges restrict the use of Tasers against low-level offenders who pose no or little threat and any mentally ill patients. This ruling was made in close reference to an instance when a police officer used a Taser on an emotionally troubled man who stood a few meters away from the officer. The man was neither running away nor walking towards the officer. This happened in San Diego. Additionally, another issue was raised by the judges showing that the Tasers use was ‘excessive force.’ This case happened back in 2005 to Carl Bryan, a 21-year-old man who was stopped for not wearing a seatbelt (Sangree & Minugh, 2009). Before this stop, Bryan had been given a speeding ticket, and as a result removed the t-shirt he wore to wipe off the tears. The individual in question was in boxer shorts since a woman had taken his keys. It was the second time that the law enforcer asked him to step out of the car. Bryan did so while hitting his thighs and seemingly agitated. He, however, did not in any way threaten the law enforcer. The law enforcer shot the Taser in the arm causing the man to fall on the road. As a result, Bryan lost four teeth, and his face got swollen and had dents. He was also taken to hospital since one of the darts from the Taser had got stuck during the incident. Based on this incident, the court, therefore, concluded that Tasers are sometimes the tools of excessive force towards harmless citizens.

Recommendation

Based on the above Taser incidences, it becomes clear that the courts in other regions of the country also need to pass restrictions on the use of stun guns. In some cases, the use of the stun guns is excessive, unjustified, and ungoverned. To solve these three issues regarding the use of stun guns, such measures as court decisions are insufficient. On their part, the law enforcers need to transform their training and operational procedures related to stun guns. Police officers should be trained on how and when to use stun guns. Additionally, in case of the officers in patrol, the regulation on who carries the Taser should be introduced. This would ensure that the number of officers having stun guns during any apprehension cases would reduce to decrease the rates of any instances of excessive force.

Using excessive force is among the issues that have long been affecting the law enforcement in the enforcement of justice. One of the issues surrounding excessive force has been the use of stun guns by the law enforcement agencies. The decision whether law enforcers should use stun guns on the civilians is a difficult one for the courts to make. However, the courts should increase the threshold for the usage of stun guns by law enforcers. Restrictions on the kind of cases where the use of stun guns is acceptable and those where it is not should be clearly outlined in various decisions by the courts. Additionally, the law enforcers also have a role to play in regulating the ungoverned, excessive, and unjustified behavior observed in relation to the use of stun guns. They should change their policies, and train their officers on how and when to use stun guns.

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