Tasers: Useful Tool or Excessive Force?

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear two cases regarding the use of Tasers by law enforcement, missing an opportunity to clarify existing law and better protect Taser victims injured by law enforcement in the line of duty.

While the high court has yet to evaluate their use, many in the legal community question the use of these painful devices when trying to subdue individuals suspected of a crime.

A Missed Opportunity to Clarify Taser Law

In one case, three police officers from Seattle wanted a chance to clear their names from an excessive use of force ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The officers had used a Taser three times on pregnant woman in her third trimester of pregnancy, leaving her with permanent scars, although her baby was born unharmed.

The court ruled the officers had used excessive force but it also ruled that the men could not be sued for their actions in civil court because the laws in 2004, the year the incident occurred, were unclear on the matter.

In the proceedings, the Seattle police officers called Tasers a "useful pain technique." Indeed, many advocates of the use of Tasers believe they help save lives, since the devices are not designed to kill people, but incapacitate them. However, the devices are not without their risks, and opponents believe they do more harm than good.

Health Risks Associated with Tasers

The shock from a Taser is designed to override an individual's nervous system, causing muscles to contract and the victim to fall to the floor. A typical Taser generates 26 watts and can issue a shock of 50,000 volts.

Though a typical, five-second shock does not cause serious harm to a healthy, sober adult, other groups are not so lucky. Unfortunately, many people with conditions that may result in serious injury from a Taser are not distinguishable from healthy individuals. Police may mistake these at-risk individuals for healthy adults, with tragic consequences.

For example, someone with a heart condition is virtually indistinguishable from any other healthy adult. Unfortunately, people with heart conditions are more likely to have serious complications from being incapacitated by a Taser. One complication that may arise from the shock of a Taser is ventricular fibrillation, which disrupts the heart's function. People with heart disease are more susceptible to this complication than others.

Others that may be at risk include children, the elderly, drug users and those using psychiatric drugs. Since the health risks associated with Tasers are extreme and may result in death, it is important that the law is clarified to account for these complications.

At some point the dangers of Tasers may outweigh the benefits. Presently law enforcement has not placed any restrictions on the use of Tasers, but they may be worth exploring. Limits such as using them only when apprehending someone suspected of violent crime could save many from needless suffering. Currently there may be too much temptation for law enforcement officials to rely on Tasers when confronting a suspect instead of using safer methods that may involve physical maneuvers.

If you or a loved one has been serious injured by the shock of a Taser at the hand of law enforcement you should speak with an experienced Minneapolis criminal defense attorney about your options.