Applying the Imminence Requirement to Police

Criminal Justice Ethics 42 (1):52-63 (2023)
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In many jurisdictions in the United States and elsewhere, the law governing deadly force by police and civilians contains a notable asymmetry. Often civilians but not police are bound by the imminence requirement—that is, a necessary condition for justifying deadly force is reasonable belief that oneself or another innocent person faces imminent threat of grave harm. In U.S. law enforcement, however, there has been some shift toward the imminence requirement, most evident in the use-of-force policy adopted by the Department of Justice in 2022. This article defends that shift and argues that the ethical case for the imminence requirement in policing is stronger than Shannon Brandt Ford suggests in a recent article. Though the imminence requirement’s impacts on policing and public safety require ongoing study, the principle of equality before the law and the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing both provide moral grounds for this requirement, especially given the lack of evidence that the status quo helps protect life.

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Ben Jones
Pennsylvania State University


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