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High-speed police chases upheld by Supreme Court


WASHINGTON—Police can use potentially deadly force to end a high-speed chase that puts the public at risk, the Supreme Court ruled last Monday.

The case of Timothy Scott vs. Victor Harris began in 2001, when Mr. Harris, a Georgia man who was left paraplegic after Mr. Scott, a Coweta County, Ga., deputy sheriff, rammed Mr. Harris' car in an effort to stop him during a car chase in which Mr. Harris' speed sometimes exceeded 85 mph on a two-lane road, according to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Harris held that such a potentially deadly action violated his Fourth Amendment protections against the use of excessive force during a seizure. Both a U.S. district court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Scott's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity and said that the case should proceed to jury. Mr. Scott then appealed to the Supreme Court.

After taking the highly unusual step of watching a video of the chase--and posting it along with the decision on the Supreme Court Web site--eight of the nine justices held in favor of Mr. Scott.

The court, wrote Associate Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority, rejected Mr. Harris' "argument that safety could have been assured if the police simply ceased their pursuit. The court rules that 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."

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens dissented.

Timothy Scott vs. Victor Harris. U.S. Supreme Court. No. 05-1631. Decided April 30, 2007.