Every day in our country, police agencies pursue criminal suspects who are unlawfully attempling to elude them. Reality-based television shows, such as Cops and the Police Videos series on the Fox Network, bring home to the public some measure of the adrenaline-producing excitement that automobile pursuits engender. Rarely, however, does one see the tragedy that often results from these pursuits. While reliable nationwide statistics on police pursuits are not available, various studies depict the rate of accidents as ranging from twenty-nine percent to seventy percent, with a rate of injury ranging from eleven percent to twenty-seven percent. Injuries and deaths inflicted upon innocent third parties have led some to urge for the abolition of police pursuits when the predicate offenses involved are "minor crimes or traffic violations." Others argue for stricter pursuit policies. Still others urge a higher degree of police liability for the damage and injuries that sometimes result.
While commentators discuss avenues for police liability and the risks to society that police chases present, there is a common element missing in most works on this subject. Quite simply, the focus is shifted away from the law violator's actions and conduct. When taken to its logical conclusion, this position allows the somewhat aberrational result that the police, merely by deciding to pursue a fleeing suspect, may be liable for injuries inflicted upon an innocent third party.
It is the position of this Comment that whenever someone uses a vehicle to flee unlawfully from the police, the police are justified in using deadly force to end the pursuit if the suspect drives in any manner inconsistent with the safe operation of a vehicle. Not only is deadly force constitutional in these circumstances, it is warranted both from a tactical and "interests of society" perspective. In short, the risks of injury or death from police pursuits should be upon the violators who, by their flight, create the risks, rather than upon the citizenry in general. This Comment will illustrate the inherent constitutionality of using deadly force to stop fleeing drivers, and it is hoped that it will serve as a starting point for discussing the disadvantages of enforcing criminal laws in a manner which while possibly beneficial to the suspect, is detrimental to society overall.
Part II introduces the statute most often used as a basis for recovery when constitutional rights are alleged to have been violated, as well as the qualified immunity doctrine. Part III explains, to the extent possible, the available statistical data that deal with pursuits. Part IV examines Supreme Court cases that especially impact consideration of the constitutionality of the police use of force in the context of pursuits. Part V examines a series of chases during the course of which deadly force was used by the police to terminate the pursuits and the subsequent review of these actions by several courts. Part VI provides a theory on the correct manner in which to view using deadly force to stop pursuits. Part VII deals with the "violent-felon only" chase policy adopted by some agencies. Part VIII examines some of the broader implications of using deadly force to stop dangerous chases. Finally, Part IX deals with the present inadequacy of alternative means to stop pursuits.
Owens, Michael Douglas
"The Inherent Constitutionality of the Police Use of Deadly Force to Stop Dangerous Pursuits,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 52:
4, Article 17.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol52/iss4/17