New Supreme Court Ruling Says Police Can Use More Force to Stop High-Speed Chases

Officers can use deadly force to stop life-endangering car chases, and can use it until the danger ends.

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Supreme Court considered a lawsuit by the daughter of a man killed by police in a high-speed chase. (572 U. S. ____ (2014).) The Court remarked that police attempts to end high-speed chases that threaten innocent lives don't violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures. The Court also held that, “if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

The case in question involved a man who, driving with a passenger, took several officers on a chase that lasted over five minutes, exceeded speeds of 100 miles per hour, and affected other cars on the road. When the man was temporarily cornered in a parking lot, he continued to try to escape. An officer fired three bullets into his car at close range. After the driver freed his vehicle and began to speed away, officers fired 12 more shots. The car crashed into a building; both the driver and passenger died of a combination of gunshot wounds and collision injuries.

The Court said that it wouldn't consider such cases “with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” It held that, because of the threat to public safety, the officers' actions were reasonable. (The Court didn't determine whether someone suing on behalf of the passenger would have had a viable lawsuit against the police.)

For further reading on related topics, see Police Brutality.