Scott v. Harris Handed Down:
Over at SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston is reporting that the Supreme Court handed down Scott v. Harris (the car chase excessive force case) this morning. As co-counsel for Scott, I'm happy to report that the Supreme Court reversed the 11th Circuit and ruled in Scott's favor:
In an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that police do not act unconstitutionally when they try to stop a suspect fleeing at high speed by ramming the suspect's car from the rear, forcing it to crash. The car chase that led to the bumping and crash, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court, posed "a substantial and immediate risk of serious physical injury to others." Thus, the attempt to terminate the chase by forcing the car off the road was "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. Justice Stevens dissented alone; he took a step that is somewhat unusual for him, reciting orally from the bench his reasons for disagreeing with his colleagues.
I'll post a link to the opinion when it becomes available.

  UPDATE: The opinion is here.
The idea of the nine members of the Supreme Court sitting around reviewing the videotape and drawing their own conclusions as to reasonableness harkens back to the era of obscenity cases.

I have to side with Justice Stevens' view that it's absurd to hold, as a matter of law, that it's reasonable to use deadly force in order to apprehend a speeder. The majority attempts to justify the use of deadly force by arguing that the speeder was endangering innocent life, completely ignoring that a high-speed chase requires two parties.

The police had his license plate number and could have simply apprehended him later (and subjected him to a much stiffer penalty for evading the traffic stop), rather than escalating the confrontation and using the escalation as a pretext to apply deadly force.
4.30.2007 12:19pm
Visitor Again:
It's beyond the ken of these eight justices in the majority that it might be appropriate for the police to give up the chase. That apparently is not something they are capable of fitting within their analytical framework. I could understand that the police might want to chase a known killer at some risk of injury to innocent bystanders, but not someone who, as far as they know, is only guilty of speeding, failure to stop at police request or even auto theft.

I've taken a particularly dim view of these police chases ever since the police chased a stolen vehicle at high speed into a head-on collision with my girlfriend's car during morning rush hour on Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles. The LAPD might not have done that at rush hour on Wilshire Boulevard or Beverly Boulevard, but different rules prevail in the ghetto. The upshot was permanent injury to my girlfriend, and the cops didn't even catch the fleeing car thief. He hopped a fence and got away. Under California law, the police have immunity from liability for these car chases.
4.30.2007 1:26pm
DiverDan (mail):
Having read the opinions, and viewed the tape, it really seems to me that Justice Stevens got by far the best of the legal argument -- and that surprises me, since I am almost invariably in agreement with the Scalia-Thomas wing of the Court. It appears that what the 8 members of the majority were really saying is, if you create the situation in which you were put at danger, like the speeder who chose to initiate the high speed chase in this case rather that stop for a perfectly legal traffic stop, you deserve what you get, and shouldn't look to the officer who chased you for damages. The majority opinion was really just a vapid rationalization for the desired result, and a poor application of established law. I really wonder if this case would have been decided differently if it was an innocent bystander injured during the chase who was the Plaintiff.
4.30.2007 1:38pm
Colin (mail):
I really wonder if this case would have been decided differently if it was an innocent bystander injured during the chase who was the Plaintiff.

An innocent bystander would be a more sympathetic plaintiff. But since when has Scalia been moved by actual innocence?
4.30.2007 4:49pm