U.S. Supreme Court
John Bad Elk v. United States, 177 U.S. 529 (1900)
John Bad Elk v. United States
Submitted February 26, 1900
Decided April 30, 1900
177 U.S. 529
Three policemen in South Dakota attempted, under verbal orders, to arrest another policeman for an alleged violation of law when no charge had been formally made against him and no warrant had issued for his arrest. Those attempting to make the arrest carried arms, and when he
refused to go, they tried to oblige him to do so by force. He fired and killed one of them. He was arrested, tried for murder, and convicted. The court charged the jury:
"The deceased, John Kills Back, had been ordered to arrest the defendant; hence he had a right to go and make the attempt to arrest the defendant. The defendant had no right to resist him. It is claimed on the part of the defendant that he made no resistance, and he was willing to go with the officer in the morning. I
charge you, of course, that the officer, John Kills Back, had a right to determine for himself when this man should go to the agency with him. . . . In this connection I desire to say to you, gentlemen of the jury, that the deceased, being an officer of the law, had a right to be armed, and for the purpose of arresting the defendant, he would have had the right to show his revolver. He would have had the right to use only so much force as was necessary to take his prisoner, and the fact that he was using no more force than was necessary to take his prisoner would not be sufficient justification for the defendant to shoot him and kill him. The defendant would only be justified in killing the deceased when you should find that the circumstances showed that the deceased had so far forgot his duties as an officer and had gone beyond the force necessary to arrest the defendant, and was about to kill him or to inflict great bodily injury upon him, which was not necessary for the purpose of making the arrest."
Held, that the court clearly erred in charging that the policemen had the right to arrest the plaintiff in error and to use such force as was necessary to accomplish the arrest, and that the plaintiff in error had no right to resist it.
At common law, if a party resisted arrest by an officer without warrant, and who had no right to arrest him, and if, in the course of that resistance, the officer was killed, the offence of the party resisting arrest would be reduced from what would have been murder, if the officer had had the right to arrest, to manslaughter.
The case is stated in the opinion.