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Electronic Control Devices: Legal Aspects Overview

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2007
3 pages
The article presents an overview of the legal implications associated with electronic control devices (ECDs).
Sound policies and programs detailing the appropriate and proper use of ECDs protect law enforcement agencies and officers and the public they serve. All agencies must develop sound policies, procedures, and training curricula for the use of ECDs. ECDs are intended to instantly but temporarily incapacitate an individual by delivering an electric shock either through a wire tethered to barbed projectiles fired from up to 21 feet away or by holding the weapon directly against the person. "Tasers” or “stun guns” are the terms most commonly associated with the weapons. Taser is actually a trademark brand name appropriately reserved only for the types of ECDs marketed by TASER International. Similar devices include electro-muscular disruption device (EMD), conducted energy device (CED), dart-firing stun gun, and STINGER. All TASER devices are promoted by the company as “nonlethal” as defined by the Joint Concept for Nonlethal Weapons (U.S. Marine Corps), and other manufacturers also claim nonlethal status for their devices through independent testing and studies. Courts have generally held that the use of TASER devices, ECDs, and EMDs is a form of less-lethal use of force. However, when the use of an ECD is alleged to cause an injury or death, law enforcement and other government agencies are subject to civil lawsuits for damages. Further, law enforcement officers may face both civil liability and criminal prosecution. Most lawsuits against law enforcement agencies or officers alleging an ECD-related injury claim that the injury occurred because the officer involved used the ECD in a manner or under circumstances that violated the suspect or individual’s constitutional rights under the fourth or eighth amendment of the United States Constitution. If a violation has occurred, the officers or agency may lose their protection from liability ordinarily afforded by the doctrine of Qualified Immunity Under 41 U.S.C. § 1983. References

Date Published: October 1, 2007