Police officers lacked clear legal guidance on when they may zap people with Tasers, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Monday, so it made a new rule to restrict their use, reports the Fayetteville Observer.

If a person is not creating "an immediate safety risk," the court said, officers aren't allowed to shock him with a Taser. The pain it causes is an excessive use of force that violates the person's constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment, it said.

The ruling arose from a lawsuit against Pinehurst over the death of a mentally ill man. Pinehurst police used a Taser's pain mode in a failed attempt to make the man let go of a post. He died a few minutes later.

The decision applies in the five states in the 4th Circuit: North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The N.C. Justice Academy advised law enforcement agencies to revise their Taser policies to comply.

Officers likely will resort to other weapons, like pepper spray and batons, plus hands-on techniques to make people comply with their orders, said Cumberland County (NC) Sheriff's Office attorney Ronnie Mitchell.

"I'm afraid it will lead to more injuries to individuals," Mitchell said, both law enforcement officers and the people they are attempting to detain or control.

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