The moral justification for the police use of lethal force

Authored by: Seumas Miller

The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415708654
eBook ISBN: 9781315885933
Adobe ISBN: 9781134619450

10.4324/9781315885933.ch20

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Abstract

In this entry I examine the moral justification or, better, justifications (plural) for police use of lethal force. 2 Presumably police officers, along with the rest of us, are morally justified in using lethal force in self-defence or in defence of the lives of others. But do police officers have a moral justification for the use of lethal force that the rest of us do not have? Of particular interest here is the claim that police officers have an institutional and moral right and duty to use lethal force in circumstances in which ordinary citizens do not have any such moral right or duty. Certainly, police officers have an institutional moral right and duty to uphold the law. So do police officers have an institutional moral right and duty to use lethal force to uphold the law, above and beyond their moral right and duty to use lethal force in self-defence or defence of others? Here there is a contrast between an institutional right or duty and a natural or pre-institutional one. Arguably, the right to self-defence (and to defend the lives of others) is a natural, as opposed to an institutional, right.

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