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Scott v. Harris


In an effort to stop a speeding motorist, a police officer activated his blue flashing lights. The suspect sped away and the officer radioed for assistance and gave chase. The pursuit resulted in dangerous maneuvers by the suspect, including damage to one of the officers’ vehicles. “Six minutes and nearly 10 miles after the chase had begun,” a police officer attempted a maneuver designed to cause the fleeing vehicle to spin to a stop. The result, however, was that the officer applied his bumper to the rear of the suspect’s vehicle, who lost control of his vehicle and crashed. The suspect was “badly injured and was rendered a quadriplegic.”


Whether it is reasonable for an officer to take actions that place a fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death in order to stop the motorist’s flight from endangering the lives of innocent bystanders?


Yes. “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 defendant’s actions “posed an actual and imminent threat to the lives of any pedestrians who might have been present, to other civilian motorists, and to the officers involved in the chase.” The officers were justified in taking some action. The Court asked “how does a court go about weighing the perhaps lesser probability of injuring or killing numerous bystanders against the perhaps larger probability of injuring or killing a single person?” An appropriate analysis includes taking “into account not only the number of lives at risk, but also their relative culpability.” In this instance, the defendant’s actions place a significant number of persons in danger, and the officers’ range of reasonable responses was limited. In this instance, ramming the vehicle was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.


550 U.S. 372, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007)

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