California Penal Code 196 explains when police officers are legally allowed to kill someone. The statute’s full text reads:
Homicide is justifiable when committed by peace officers and those acting by their command in their aid and assistance, under either of the following circumstances:
- (a) In obedience to any judgment of a competent court.
- (b) When the homicide results from a peace officer’s use of force that is in compliance with Section 835a.
As well as officers of the law, non-officers, citizens, and people in general are permitted to kill in self-defense. But sometimes, it isn’t so simple.
California Penal Code Section 196 FAQ
If you are wondering what the law says and how certain circumstances do or do not apply to the use of deadly force in California, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help sort out exactly what the law means.
What does California Penal Code PC 196 Mean?
The language of this penal code basically states that a police officer can kill to defend him or herself or other people if he or she reasonably believes there is a threat. PC 196 allows an officer to kill in circumstances that involve:
- Reasonable defense of self
- Reasonable defense of others
- A suspect is fleeing the scene of a violent felony AND the officer reasonably believes the suspect will cause death or serious injury if not arrested immediately
This clearly explains that someone’s life must be in danger or the threat of great bodily injury exists unless the suspect is stopped. A person fleeing the police should not be shot for simply running away or fleeing the scene after shoplifting or some other non-violent crime has been committed.
Is an Officer Required to Provide a Warning Before Firing on a Suspect in California?
Not necessarily. If the police officer has reason to believe the fleeing suspect is aware they are being pursued and could be shot, no warning is needed. However, police should make the effort to identify themselves when practical and provide a verbal warning to the suspect that they need to stop or they will risk being shot.
What Is the New Police Deadly Force Law in California?
A few years before the George Floyd killing took place, California had already begun to take steps to amend California Penal Code Sections 196 and 835a. The approval of Assembly Bill 392 took place on August 19, 2019, and was signed into law by Governor Newsom.
This law was put into effect to reduce the use of deadly force by police officers and to provide a way to hold the police accountable. AB-392 took effect on January 1, 2020, redefining justifiable homicides by police officers and clearly defined the acceptable use of deadly force to prevent escape, overcome resistance, or effect an arrest.
The language that was amended in California Penal Code PC 196 to redefine the use of force standards. It states:
The circumstances of justifiable homicide change from when “overcoming actual resistance to the execution of some legal process or in the discharge of any other legal duty” to “the homicide results from a peace officer’s use of force that is in compliance with PC 835a.
The legislative intent was described in Penal Code 835a(a). In general, it states that:
- The authority conferred on peace officers to use lethal force is a serious responsibility.
- Deadly force should be used only when necessary in defense of human life
- A peace officer’s decision to use deadly force must be evaluated carefully and thoroughly, reflecting the gravity of its consequences
- A peace officer’s decision to use deadly force must be evaluated reasonably based on the totality of circumstances
- Individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities may be affected in their ability to understand or comply with peace officer commands
California’s new definitions of deadly force and justifiable homicide were backed by citizens and police agencies who desired better training in the use of deadly force.
What did the New Deadly Force Law Change?
Some of the most important changes to California Penal Code Section 196 include:
- An officer may no longer use deadly force to arrest a person charged with a felony unless that person poses an immediate threat to the officer.
- The changes to the code also reflected the protection of people who may harm only themselves. “PC 835a(c)(2) includes prohibition on using deadly force against persons who pose a danger only to themselves.”
- The law also now indicates that the officer can only use deadly force when they reasonably believe that it’s necessary based on the totality of the circumstances.
What Is the Legal Definition of Deadly Force?
Deadly force can include using any force that “creates a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury.” It should be noted that “sleeper hold” or “choke hold” restraints that involve the arm to restrain a person in a neck hold are now banned in California.
What does Totality of the Circumstances Mean?
This refers to “all facts known to the peace officer at the time, including the conduct of the officer and the subject leading up to the use of deadly force.” It means that in court, the decisions made would be focused on all the circumstances surrounding a situation rather than one element or aspect.
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The attorneys at Simmrin Law Group have represented countless clients when they were facing times of struggle, when they have been hurt, or when the justice system didn’t play fair. Our California criminal defense lawyers believe everyone has a right to the best representation possible.
We know the strategies for getting results in police brutality cases and we work tirelessly to get you the best results. If you or a loved one were subdued by police use of excessive force, contact us today to find out how we may be able to help you. We are here to defend you.