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Scott v. Harris

    Brief Fact Summary.  A police officer in pursuit hit the back of motorist’s vehicle to stop him from hurting innocent bystanders.

     

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.  For Summary Judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorably to the non-moving party only if there is a genuine dispute to alleged facts. Also the objective reasonable standard for violations of the fourth amendment is a balancing test between the person’s rights and government’s rights.

     

    Facts.  A Georgia county deputy clocked motorist car diving at speeds of 73 miles per hour in a 55 mile-an-hour zone. The officer activated his lights and the motorist sped away accelerating his speed. The officer called it in over his dispatch and several officers including Scott joined in. After six minutes and 10 miles of a high speed chase, Officer Scott has permission to employ precision intervention techniques to stop Harris and was told to stop him. Office Scott rear-ended the car, it spun and flipped over. Harris was badly injured and now a quadriplegic.

     

    Issue.  Whether the summary judgment standard of viewing the facts in light most favorably of the non-moving party, requires the court to put more weight in testimony than video tape evidence to the contrary. Also, whether the police officer actions were reasonable under the fourth amendment is the second issue.

     

    Held.  NO. Upon a Summary Judgment motion it is the moving party’s burden to show there is no genuine issue of material fact. Only then does the burden shift to the non-moving party to state otherwise. However, here the non-moving party (motorist) only gave testimony that he was driving perfectly. The police officer had a video tape of the entire tape showing seriously reckless driving. The court found that the record of all evidence could not lead a rationale trier of the fact to find for the non-moving party. Therefore there was no genuine issue of material fact. The court found the lower court was wrong in only relying on that testimony. The central issue for trial is whether motorist drove in such a way to engage human life. Here since the motorist story was completely discredited by the video tape and he had no other evidence, no reasonable jury would find for the motorist. There mere existence of an alleged fact is not enough.

    Yes. The second issue is whether the police officers actions in seizure were objectively reasonable under the fourth amendment. Reasonableness is found by balancing the nature and quality of the intrusion on the person’s 4th amendment rights and the importance of the government’s interests to justify such actions.  The police officer defends his action on the need to protect the safety of pedestrians and other motorist. The video clearly showed the motorist was an actual and imminent threat to others, and while the police officer drove just as reckless this court will not impose a rule that states police officers must stop a chase in the motorist is to reckless. That would tell drivers they can get away of they speed enough

     

    Dissent. Justice Stevens. The issue of whether the police officer’s actions were reasonable is a question for the jury no the judge. There are other cases where a jury has disagreed with a judge on those actions. This was an open highway the chase occurred on. The police office lights and siren is enough to warn others on the road. The deadly force used by the officer was unreasonable. Also the question as to whether his actions warranted the use of deadly force is also a jury’s question.

    Discussion.  Before a court will hear a case against an office of the law, the court must find the officer wasn’t immune from his actions.  However the court must decide if that immunity is present. The test for immunity is to find that no constitutional rights are violated and that the right to commit such actions was clearly established based on the facts to the case.

     


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