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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

High speed chases: the movie

Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Scott v. Harris was notable for a couple of reasons: Most importantly, it established a bright-line rule for high-speed car chases by police: "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."

It also made jurisprudential history because the Supreme Court based its decision on a video of the incident, which left a 19-year-old man quadraplegic. In the majority decision, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “The record in this case includes a videotape capturing the events in question. Where, as here, the record blatantly contradicts the plaintiff's version of events so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a summary judgment motion.”

"We are happy to allow the videotape to speak for itself," Scalia said in a footnote, directing interested viewers to the court's website where there is a link to a video file next to the Scott v. Harris citation.

Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, saying that the video “surely does not provide a principled basis for depriving the respondent of his right to have a jury evaluate the question whether the police officers' decision to use deadly force to bring the chase to an end was reasonable.”

I’d be interested in your thoughts not only on the merits of the case but also on the Supreme Court’s role as fact-finder and its decision to post the video on the Web.

1 comment:

bobby_b said...

The fact-finding was outrageous in its setting, but completely necessary, because the appellate court had so blatantly mischaracterized the whole chase scene in a very self-serving manner.

I loved Scalia's comment that the appellate court described the facts, (upon which it based its tone and tenor of the case if nothing else), in a manner that sounded as if the miscreant "was taking his driver's test."