Beer with a Cop Chaser
As has been widely reported, the US Supreme Court has ruled in Scott v. Harris. As stated in the SCOTUS Blog, the decision held:
Here is how the Court phrases the rule it established: "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."
The Court's decision, issued by Justice Antonin Scalia, has been called a "flat rule," and castigated in a concurring (Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, separately) and dissenting (Justice Stevens) opinion as too absolute. From the solid 6 vote majority opinion, the answer is one of total deference to the judgment of a police officer to use vehicular deadly force to stop a high speed car chase without it being held unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
This is insanity. These justices, though clearly supportive of police, have demonstrated their total lack of connection to reality and, more significantly, that their support exceeds their realization that this is a license to kill. Not the bad guys. Us.
Let's take this from the top. This decision was justified based on a videotape of a chase (the first to be published by the Court so all could see, bringing the Court into the YouTube generation. From this single scenario, the Court has established a per se rule, engaging in the dreaded inductive reasoning that invariably fails in the harsh light of experience. But they must have known that, because these aren't a bunch of dopes.
A cop decides that he wants to stop a motor vehicle, so he turns on his lights. The car doesn't pull over, but insteads speeds up and drives away. First question: What was the reason for stopping the car in the first place. Did the cop have probable cause to believe that the driver committed murder? Was a tail light out? Was the driver black? These questions used to matter.
By his action in trying to stop the car, the cop initiates the confrontation that results in a high speed chase. Granted, it's not the cops fault that the driver doesn't pull over, but then society can't control the driver, but we can control the cop. Or we used to be able to.
Next step is the cop making the decision to pursue the driver. At this point, the cop makes a judgment call as to whether it is a better idea to escalate the situation into a high speed chase or not. But if he doesn't chase, you ask, what is he supposed to do? Well, there's always taking down the license plate and finding the driver later. Or radio other cars to find the car at a more propitious point where he can be stopped without need for a high speed chase. Yes, Virginia. There are alternatives.
But then the cop decides to pursue. At high speeds. And the chase is on. So what? This is one of the two things a police officer can do that presents the greatest risk of death to the miscreant, the cop and the public. The other is discharge his weapon, but we will leave that for another per se rule day. While police officers are trained in high speed driving, that doesn't guarantee that they are very good at it. Further, stuff seems to happen that interferes with your basis high speed chase, like mommies in SUVs with kids in the back entering intersections with the light just when Officer Parnelli Jones needs to go through.
The driver of the vehicle being chased, however, has no such high speed training. He's just full of adrenaline, ego or crack. Maybe he's just brain dead. But even stupidity in the first degree doesn't carry a death sentence. At least it didn't used to.
So there are two players on the road, driving very fast and uninclined to stop at traffic control devices, while the rest of us merrily go about our daily lives. Our children carefully look both ways for the car traveling 30 miles per hour. Our spouses are tired and irritable (okay, at least mine is) driving home. And without warning, a car hurtles forward at an incredible velocity and then...BOOM!
For what? A broken tail light? A observation buy of a nickle bag of marijuana? Is that all your life is worth? Is that all anyone's life is worth?
It is not that I have no faith in the good judgment of cops. I don't imagine that every cop on the job is going to engage in high speed chases for the fun of it following Scott v. Harris. But some will. And someone will die because of it. And our Supreme Court does not need to encourage this. Indeed, put its seal of approval on it. Maybe in the ivory tower of black robed punditry these unintended consequences never happen, but on the stretch of road that real people drive they do. This is sheer insanity. And this time, we will all pay the price.