Supreme Court Going to Decide About Whether to Allow High Speed Police Chases

This is a case for the Supreme Court? The problem with the decisions at the district and circuit court levels is that the courts looked at what they thought were the costs and benefits from pursuit in those cases. Even if a particular pursuit turns out badly, the threat of pursuit may stop a lot of other crimes from occuring. It is too bad that the person in this case became paralyzed, but what about the other crimes that were stopped?

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case expected to lay down new rules about when and how law-enforcement officers can chase suspects and use their vehicles to stop them.

At issue before the court is whether a Georgia police officer went too far when he rammed his vehicle into the car of a driver who refused to pull over for speeding. The car went down an embankment, and the crash left the 19-year-old driver paralyzed from the neck down.

Civil liberties advocates and critics of police chases are concerned that a ruling for the officer in the case would give law enforcement the green light to use more aggressive tactics even for minor offenses.

Most Central Florida law-enforcement agencies have policies that prohibit pursuits when only traffic or minor offenses are involved, although some policies are more restrictive than others.

Law-enforcement officers across the country are concerned that a ruling for the driver would put them in legal jeopardy for split-second decisions at crime scenes.

But even if the court rules in favor of the deputy, don't expect area law-enforcement agencies to change how they deal with fleeing suspects, one veteran Central Florida police official said Sunday. . . . .

As the chase continued on Georgia Highway 74, at speeds of up to 90 mph, Scott took over and led the pursuit.

Seconds later, Scott asked permission to use the PIT maneuver, and his supervisor responded over the radio: "Take him out; take him out."

But they were traveling too fast on a wet two-lane road for the maneuver, so Scott rammed Harris' Cadillac in the rear, sending the car down an embankment.

Harris was paralyzed and was never prosecuted.

He filed a lawsuit against Scott, alleging violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable seizures and excessive force. . . . .

Labels: ,


Anonymous Ken said...

Oh, silly me! Here I am after all these years and all this education, still harboring the delusion that seeking a balance between the costs and benefits of various public policy alternatives was the proper function of the legislature, and that the courts were intended to interpret and apply the constitution and the laws as written by the legislature.

3/01/2007 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite right Ken. I'm not too knowledgeable about the history of the SCOTUS, but when was it decided that these 9 judges should become the ultimate philosopher kings?

It's all very well to seek *opinions* on constitutionality from such people, as they are presumably well versed in such things...but to treat them as the final *authority* in making decisions about legislation? Sounds like they've totally overstepped the bounds of their constitutionally defined role.

Why has nobody called them out over this? Separation of powers, anyone?


3/01/2007 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Name just 1 other crime that was stopped by ramming this person,I dare you....Just 1 thats all ya gotta do.

3/01/2007 9:38 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Joe:

I am not really sure that your comment is a serious one. Do you think that arresting people and putting them in prison today deters other future criminals from committing crime? If so, you have your answer. You may feel sorry for someone who faces a long prison term, but there is a cost to simply letting the person off, even if you eventually decide that is what you want to do.

3/02/2007 8:06 AM  
Blogger Rail Claimore said...

In a judicial system designed around individualist philosophy, the punishment should fit the crime. That's the definition of justice from an individualist standpoint.

That punishment should be judged based on what will be most effective in preventing future crimes is a collectivist argument, (regardless of whether it might be true or not) because it's based on the assumption that people, even as individuals, are beings that need to be controlled for the sake of society.

For example: I'm personally against the death penalty, but I can totally respect the argument that the death penalty is a punishment that is suitable to the crime (murder or treason). However, I have no respect for the argument that it "deters" crime. That's the whole reason the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause was put into the Bill of Rights. While it might be true that doubling sentences and expanding the number of crimes punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty would effectively eliminate crime in this country, how free a society would we really be in?

I'm not faulting the cop for supposedly doing what he did, even if the guy brought it on himself. I don't know all the facts of the case, but LEOs, even as representatives of the state, are only human. They are subject to emotions and they make mistakes... a natural imperfection of the state. But honestly, I'm worried that the USSC has ruled too heavily on the side of the state in key recent decisions, such as the "no-knock" decision. How does that decision serve the individual? Ask that Georgia woman who was killed by police officers for defending her life and property only because the officers got served the warrant on the wrong house.

Limitations should be placed on what the state can or can't do, and LEOs, being agents of the state, should fall under those limitations.

3/02/2007 11:47 PM  
Anonymous tomWright said...

Prof. Lott:

You are wrong on this one.

There are many jurisdictions that have forbidden high speed chases for simple traffic violations for the very reason that they endanger innocent bystanders due to the flight response so often triggered in these cases. (This is pointed out in the story). Couple this with the pursuit response officers get when they are chasing someone, and you have a behavioral feedback loop, where chase engenders flight which engenders more determined chase, etc.

When that happens, thoughts of being deterred or endangering others do not enter into it.

Police are starting to use slow speed chases, radio pursuit and waiting the person out over high speed pursuits. This is another reason why so many L.E.Orgs. have helicopters and use them for this when they can.

I suspect that the court will rule that the police use of force was not unconstitutional. That will not, of course, say anything about the wisdom of doing so in this case.

3/03/2007 2:21 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home