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Policy: Law

Supreme Court case to shape Ferguson investigation

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Photo - FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, file photo, police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo. The national legal standards that govern when police officers are justified using force against people trace their lineage to a 1984 case from Charlotte, N.C. Brown's shooting has prompted multiple investigations and triggered days of rioting reflecting long-simmering racial tensions in a town of mostly black residents and a majority white police force.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, file photo, police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo. The national legal standards that govern when police officers are justified using force against people trace their lineage to a 1984 case from Charlotte, N.C. Brown's shooting has prompted multiple investigations and triggered days of rioting reflecting long-simmering racial tensions in a town of mostly black residents and a majority white police force. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The moment Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot an unarmed teenager, a 25-year-old Supreme Court case became the prism through which his actions will be legally judged.

To most people, an 18-year-old unarmed man may not appear to pose a deadly threat. But a police officer's perspective is different. And that is how an officer should be judged after the fact, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the 1989 opinion.

The Supreme Court case, decided at a time when violence against police was on the rise, has shaped the national legal standards that govern when police officers are justified in using force. The key question about Wilson's deadly Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown is whether a reasonable officer with a similar background would have responded the same way.

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