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High court sides with officer in chase case

Old 04-30-07, 02:02 PM
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High court sides with officer in chase case

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nat...home-headlines

High court sides with officer in chase case

Ruling protects police from lawsuits resulting from high-speed pursuits



By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

April 30, 2007, 11:30 AM EDT

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court today gave police officers protection from lawsuits that result from high-speed car chases, ruling against a Georgia teenager who was paralyzed after his car was run off the road.

In a case that turned on a video of the chase in suburban Atlanta, Justice Antonin Scalia said law enforcement officers do not have to call off pursuit of a fleeing motorist when they reasonably expect that other people could be hurt.


Rather, officers can take measures to stop the car without putting themselves at risk of civil rights lawsuits.

"A police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death," Scalia said.

The court sided 8-1 with former Coweta County sheriff's deputy Timothy Scott, who rammed a fleeing black Cadillac on a two-lane, rain-slicked road in March 2001.

Victor Harris, the 19-year-old driver of the Cadillac, lost control and his car ended up at the bottom of an embankment. The nighttime chase took place at roughly 90 miles an hour.

Harris, paralyzed, sued Scott.

Lower federal courts ruled the lawsuit could proceed, but the Supreme Court said today that it could not. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented.

In an unusual move, the court posted the dramatic video on its Web site.

Scalia described a "Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of serious injury."

Stevens, however, said that a district court judge and three appellate judges who watched the same video concluded that issue should be decided after a trial, not by a judge in a pretrial ruling.

He said that was preferable to the case "being decided by a group of elderly appellate judges," a reference to himself and his colleagues on the court. At 87, Stevens is the oldest justice.

Scalia said people could watch the tape and decide for themselves. "We are happy to allow the videotape to speak for itself," he said in a footnote that accompanied the ruling.

The case is Scott v. Harris, 05-1631.
It's not rocket science. When you're told to pull over by law enforcement, you pull over. 8-1, though, is a pleasant surprise.
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Old 04-30-07, 02:16 PM
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The better question is whether an injured third party could sue out of the same type of accident. This was fairly obvious.
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Old 04-30-07, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by wildcatlh
The better question is whether an injured third party could sue out of the same type of accident. This was fairly obvious.
Exactly. I have no problem with barring the perpetrator who created the dangerous situation from suing. I'd have more trouble barring an injured pedestrian or other motorist from suing.
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Old 04-30-07, 02:31 PM
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This story is badly written and unclear at the start. I thought it was talking about some innocent bystander who got run off the road and hurt. And then it says it was the guy the cop was chasing.

I have no problem if the person being pursued is hurt as a result of his or her own decision not to obey an officer.

But if an innocent bystander is injured... that's trickier.
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Old 04-30-07, 02:32 PM
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That is a terribly written article. I couldn't tell if they had ruled against third-party suits or not.
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Old 04-30-07, 02:38 PM
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http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinio...ipopinion.html

Link to video but a bit big at 91mb but video quality is pretty good. Amazing stuff.

I'd have to read through the whole opinion to have an informed view on this.

But I remember a few years ago in my hometown, when a police car responding to a domestic dispute was speeding at 100 mph - more than 2x the speed limit, did not have sirens on, and rammed into a car that was attempting to make a left turn and a bunch of little kids died.

At first, the police had the audacity to blame the civilian driver for causing the accident but I think they quietly settled things or not - who knows.
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Old 04-30-07, 04:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Altimus Prime
This story is badly written and unclear at the start. I thought it was talking about some innocent bystander who got run off the road and hurt. And then it says it was the guy the cop was chasing.

I have no problem if the person being pursued is hurt as a result of his or her own decision not to obey an officer.

But if an innocent bystander is injured... that's trickier.

I thought the same thing! Now that I realize that wasn't the case, I agree with the decision though.
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Old 05-01-07, 02:15 AM
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From Justice Stevens' dissent.
More important, it surely does not provide a principled basis for depriving the re-spondent of his right to have a jury evaluate the question whether the police officers’ decision to use deadly force tobring the chase to an end was reasonable.
I think this is an interesting point. I think I would prefer a jury rather than a judge to decide whether the police acted unreasonably but I am not know exactly how immunity for government officials are given or will be given after this case.

Seems like this case was only about whether or not the car ram violated Harris' Fourth Amendment right.


One other comment, the chase started when the driver, with a suspended license, was asked by police to pull over for speeding (73MPH) in a four lane highway w/ speed limit of 55. Now that reminds me of Corzine. I realize some may think it is a cheap shot to bring him into this, but I think it's quite fair, because it illustrates how the system is not applied consistently.

Imagine if the police had attempted to pull him over for speeding or even dare to ram his car as he tried to escape - that officer would have been fired in a heartbeat and possibly imprisoned while his department pays out a huge lawsuit. Since Corzine is rich and powerful, the police would have to give him a pass.
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Old 05-01-07, 07:11 AM
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corzine's car is specially marked and was driven by police so it would never have happened
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Old 05-01-07, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by wildcatlh
The better question is whether an injured third party could sue out of the same type of accident. This was fairly obvious.

Yep. Frankly, I was expecting 9-0 on this one.
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Old 05-01-07, 01:07 PM
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I'm not sure how I feel about this case. It's a little more "inside baseball" than the media articles are portraying.

The facts are familiar to everyone -- Scott, a police officer, was involved in a high-speed chase with Harris, a speeder. In order to stop Harris, Scott forced Harris's car off the road. Harris was paralyzed as a result of the crash. He sued Scott, alleging that Scott engaged in an unreasonable seizure, thereby violating Harris's civil rights.

What happened next is where it gets a little technical. Officer Scott moved for summary judgment. This is a motion that is filed before the trial begins. What it does, in essence is ask the judge to look at all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the other side -- in this case, Harris, the guy who got injured. The judge must then consider whether any reasonable jury could find in favor of Harris. Basically, it is saying to the court "Even if the jury believes everything the other guy has to say, he is still going to lose."

In this case, Scott was asserting qualified immunity, which says that he can't be sued if he's acting in his capacity as a police officer and he was acting reasonably. Harris's argument is that when Scott ran him off the road, he was not acting reasonably. The trial court found that it was a close enough question that it ought to go to a jury. The Court of Appeals agreed.

At the Supreme Court, the majority -- Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Alito, Souter, and Roberts -- basically said that when there's a chase that threatens innocent bystanders, anything the police do to stop the guy is fair game under the Fourth Amendment. To me, that's a terrible rule.

Breyer and Ginsburg basically disagreed with the lower courts -- they thought that it wasn't a close enough question, and that summary judgment was appropriate. But they emphasized that the cases are fact specific, and there could certainly be circumstances where it's unreasonable to force a fleeing suspect off the road during a chase.

Stevens dissented, saying, in essence "We're a bunch of old men sitting in Washington. If the judge down in Georgia -- who is actually familiar with the roads on which this chase took place and actually lives in that community -- if he thinks that a jury could reasonably find that Officer Scott acted inappropriately, we should let Harris have his day before a jury."

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I think Scalia is definitely wrong, but I just don't know whether Stevens is right, and we shouldn't be second-guessing lower court opinions on what reasonable juries could conclude, or whether Ginsburg and Breyer are right, and this case is far enough outside the line that we can definitively say that the four judges below who looked at this case (and looked at the tape) all got it wrong.
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Old 05-01-07, 01:26 PM
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Great ruling.
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Old 05-01-07, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by JasonF
maybe we shouldn't be second-guessing lower court opinions on what reasonable juries could conclude
I could be wrong, but isn't the determination of what constitutes an unreasonable seizure under the 4th amendment a question of law rather than fact?
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Old 05-01-07, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
I could be wrong, but isn't the determination of what constitutes an unreasonable seizure under the 4th amendment a question of law rather than fact?
Crim Pro isn't my thing, but I would think whether the officer acted reasonably is a fact question. However, it's bound up in issues of what is the clearly established law, and that's a legal question, so the whole thing is probably a mixed question.
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Old 05-01-07, 06:41 PM
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Originally Posted by al_bundy
corzine's car is specially marked and was driven by police so it would never have happened
Well, yeah, but suppose he was driving himself in his regular car.
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