Are Police Allowed to Use Chokeholds in New Jersey?

  • Criminal Defense

In December 2020, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office announced updates to the state’s Use of Force policy. As of April 2022, many of those revisions have been incorporated, including a partial ban on chokeholds.

Keep reading to find out more about chokeholds and when law enforcement officers in the state can use this form of deadly force. We’ll also cover other actions included in the Use of Force policy and touch on how a criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights and prepare a defense if you’re arrested or charged with a crime.

What Is a Chokehold?

The New Jersey Show of Force policy includes a definition of a chokehold. To qualify as a chokehold, an action must:

  • Include direct pressure to the front of the neck, windpipe/trachea, or carotid artery.
  • Have an effect of reducing how much air the person can take in, in the case of the neck or windpipe.
  • Restrict blood flow to the brain to the degree that the person loses consciousness, in the case of the carotid artery.

When Are New Jersey Police Allowed to Use a Chokehold?

New Jersey police are only allowed to use a chokehold maneuver on a civilian as an “absolute last resort.” According to information published on the state Attorney General’s website, chokeholds can be used only if the officer believes there is a reasonable danger to themselves or another person.

That danger must be imminent and include a reasonable threat of bodily harm. The officer must also consider the chokehold to be the only action that will stop the threat, and that belief must be reasonable given the circumstances of the situation.

What Else Is Included in the Updated Use of Force Policy?

The Use of Force policy doesn’t just cover chokeholds. Deadly force such as strikes to the neck or head area of a civilian are also prohibited except under the same last-resort scenario that may allow a chokehold. Other forms of deadly force are treated in the same way.

Any physical form of force is prohibited against a civilian, in fact, except in certain last resort scenarios. Physical force that doesn’t meet the definition of deadly force can be used if an officer has already tried to de-escalate the incident via other means and has also given the person the time and opportunity to comply.

So, what’s the difference between physical force and deadly force? According to New Jersey’s Use of Force policy (as updated in April 2022), deadly force occurs when the officer can reasonably be expected to know that the force comes with a substantial risk of serious injury or death for the other person. The policy goes on to say that discharging a firearm except in specific target practice or training situations, the humane killing of an animal, or the lawful hunt for an animal is considered deadly force. Displaying a weapon as a threat to indicate that deadly force may be used if a last-resort scenario occurs is not considered deadly force.

If deadly force is used, whether appropriate or not, New Jersey law requires any law enforcement officer at the scene to call for medical assistance and/or provide medical assistance if necessary. Officers at a scene also have what is called a “duty to intervene” when another officer is engaging in illegal force against a civilian. This is true regardless of the rank of any of the officers; if the officer engaging in illegal deadly force outranks everyone else present, those at the scene still have a duty to intervene.

Under the law, any use of force must be reported. Commanders or other appropriate persons must investigate any report of use of force to ensure it aligns with the law. Each year, police departments in the state must also conduct a general review to understand how force is used by officers and whether there are any trends that should be addressed via education and training or disciplinary action.

Working With a Criminal Law Attorney to Protect Your Rights

While New Jersey law does provide a lot of protection for civilians, including protection against excessive use of force on the part of law enforcement officers, you sometimes have to work to assert your rights under the law. That may be especially true if you are arrested or being charged with a crime.

A criminal defense attorney can help you understand what your rights are and support you in protecting them. That includes filing appropriate reports or complaints if you feel a police officer engaged in an inappropriate use of force when you were arrested or at any other time. Other ways a criminal defense lawyer can help include:

  • Explaining the charges against you, what they mean, and what sentences might be if you are convicted
  • Offering information and advice about your defense strategy, including how you can fight the charges or what plea bargains might be offered
  • Guiding you through the criminal defense process, including working on your behalf at hearings or a trial, if necessary

If you or someone you love has been arrested in New Jersey, contact the Hernandez Law Firm, P.C., to find out how we can help.

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