Last week the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it was reasonable for a pursuing police officer to force a fleeing driver off the road by ramming his vehicle from behind. Victor Harris, 19, who was suspected only of speeding, was permanently paralyzed in the accident that resulted.
When oral arguments were heard in February 2007, the Justices debated for an hour over what they had seen in a videotape, and the constitutional conclusions to be drawn. The video shows the view from the dashboard of a police car involved in a high-speed chase in suburban Atlanta. To view the video, you will need REAL media player. The video may be downloaded at the webpage of recent
decisions, simply scroll down to Scott v. Harris.
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.
Colorado Has Fair Share of High Speed Chases
Over the past nine months, at least a half-dozen high speed chases have been reported by the local press in Colorado. Less than two weeks ago the Colorado State Patrol reported that a was killed when the stolen Ford Expedition he was driving rolled eight times after striking strips of spikes police had set out to try to stop him. A second teen was partially ejected but remained pinned in the car and rescue workers had to cut her from the wreckage. The Elbert County sheriff’s office reported that a woman’s silver 2005 Expedition had been stolen from the mail pickup station at the Sun Country Meadows subdivision where she lived.
The woman told deputies she had been collecting her mail at 6:35 p.m. Friday when two people stole the car. She called 911, and less than 10 minutes later a deputy saw the SUV run a stop sign. The deputy started a pursuit on County Road 13. Elizabeth police set out the spikes almost a mile from the Elizabeth High School, where traffic was heavy as parents and students arrived to attend a choir concert.
Supreme Court Meets YouTube
Until the mid-1990’s, the U.S. Supreme Court restricted distribution of audio tapes of the oral arguments before the court. Now, the justices have joined the Internet age, including digital access to videotaped evidence with an opinion. Scott v. Harris, No. 05-1631 (April 30)
The grainy clip can’t physically be included in the published opinion, it is referenced in a footnote in which the URL is written out.
This use of new technology is likely to be more interesting to many lawyers than the actual decision. Court observers see the decision to post the clip as a milestone for the court, which has been notoriously reluctant to embrace new technology, especially cameras in its courtroom.