objectively reasonable | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

Objectively reasonable is a standard in procedural law where actions are judged based on what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances.

Contrast with subjectively reasonable.

Breaking Down ‘Objectively Reasonable’

When we say objectively reasonable, what do we mean? Let’s break it down. ‘Objective’ means not influenced by personal feelings or opinions. ‘Reasonable’ refers to being fair, sensible, and appropriate. Put together, ‘objectively reasonable’ means determining what a fair and sensible person would do without the influence of personal feelings or bias.

‘Objectively Reasonable’ in the Criminal Justice Context

In the context of criminal justice, the term ‘objectively reasonable’ is often used to judge the actions of law enforcement officers. Let’s say an officer uses force while making an arrest. How do we decide if this force was justified? We use the ‘objectively reasonable’ standard.

We would ask: Would a reasonable officer, in the same situation, with the same information, do the same thing? If the answer is yes, then the force is considered ‘objectively reasonable.’

The Importance of ‘Objectively Reasonable’

The concept of ‘objectively reasonable’ is critical because it protects people’s rights and ensures fair treatment under the law. By using an ‘objective’ standard, we can make sure that decisions are based on facts and evidence, not personal beliefs or prejudices.

‘Objectively Reasonable’ and Use of Force

Use of force cases often come down to whether the actions were ‘objectively reasonable.’ Courts review factors like the severity of the crime, the threat posed by the suspect, and whether the suspect was trying to escape. These factors help determine if a reasonable officer would have acted in the same way.

Challenges with ‘Objectively Reasonable’

While ‘objectively reasonable’ sounds like a straightforward concept, it can be complicated in practice. Different people might have different ideas about what is ‘reasonable.’ For this reason, courts often rely on expert testimony and past case law to help determine what a ‘reasonable’ officer would do.

An Example

To better understand ‘objectively reasonable,’ let’s look at an example. Suppose an officer is arresting a suspect who is resisting arrest. The officer uses force to subdue the suspect. Later, the suspect argues that the force was excessive. The court would then look at the circumstances. Was the suspect posing a threat? How much was the suspect resisting? Based on these factors, the court would decide whether a reasonable officer would have used the same amount of force.


In the end, the concept is all about fairness. It’s a way to make sure decisions are based on facts and evidence, not personal feelings or bias. It’s an essential standard in criminal justice, helping to uphold the rule of law and protect individual rights.

Learn More

On This Site

On Other Sites

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 06/09/2023


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.