News: The U.S. Supreme Court held that law enforcement officers cannot be held liable for injuries sustained in a high speed chase in the following circumstancs: “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.”
In the case, Scott v. Harris, after being caught speeding 73 mph in a 55 mph zone, Victor Harris (then 19 years old) fled police in his car for 6 minutes and 10 seconds, hitting 85 mph at times, but was forced off the road by a police car driven by Timothy Scott who bumped into Harris’s car. Harris sustained severe, paralyzing injuries, becoming a quadriplegic. You can hear on the video tape that the police officers immediately suspected that the car crash was pretty bad, and, if I heard correctly, the police wondered if the driver was “dead.” As soon as one officer took a look into the car, he came running out and yelled, “We need an ambulance!”
Harris sued the officers for using unreasonable force in violation of his 4th amendment rights. The Supreme Court rejected Harris’s claim, holding that there was no 4th amendment violation under these circumstances (meaning the police officer’s conduct was not unreasonable).
Analysis: An amazing part of the opinion is the Court’s use of the video tape taken by the police during the chase. Even more amazing is the fact that the Court published the video along with the opinion (go to Scott v. Harris) and invited people to judge for themselves about how the facts really unfolded. The crash occurred at 6 minutes, 10-15 seconds. According to the Court, the videotape refuted the version of facts described by the lower appellate court.
This is highly unusual. I am not aware of any other instance in which the Supreme Court has published video evidence along with one of its opinions. But I think it shows the growing influence of videos to all different aspects of our lives, from presidential elections to Supreme Court decisions. That the Supreme Court would decide to publish the video tape of Harris’s fleeing of police that led to his crash and quadriplegic status shows that even the camera-shy, traditionalist Supreme Court is not immune itself to caving to the lure of video. Sure enough, the video has hit YouTube now.
Police Car 1
Police Car 2 (Officer Scott)