Patterico's Pontifications


Al Masri Dead?

Filed under: General,War — Patterico @ 9:50 pm

Has Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Zarqawi’s successor, been killed? Like Zarqawi, his death has been reported before. Still, it’s a possibility. I first read about it from See Dubya. Teflon Don and Bill Roggio are also hard on the story.

Immigrant Rally Hits Home: Traffic Not Dreamy But Good

Filed under: Immigration — Patterico @ 6:12 pm

The L.A. Times reports:

Tens of thousands of advocates for immigrant rights took to the streets in Los Angeles and the rest of the nation today, hoping that passion would offset the smaller turnout from last year’s demonstrations.

I didn’t need the paper to tell me that there was a demonstration, or that it wasn’t as big as last year. Here’s how I knew: traffic was better than usual today. But not as awesome as it was one year ago today.

Every so often the paper noodles over how we could make traffic better. But the editors never come within 5 miles of the obvious answer: get rid of the overwhelming number of people who don’t belong here to begin with. (Hint on doing this in a feasible and humanitarian way: start with the criminals.)

We had the “Halley’s Comet” of Supreme Court lineups yesterday

Filed under: Law — WLS @ 4:46 pm

[Posted by WLS] 

In United Haulers Assn Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, a 6-3 decision with the following lineup in the vote: 

Majority Op by Roberts, joined by Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer,  with Scalia and Thomas each writing separate concurrences. 

Dissent by Alito, joined by Kennedy and Stevens 

Go find another one like that.

Its really an interesting case concerning the extent to which a municipality can interfere with private commerce and not violate the Commerce Clause when the municipality is operating a for-profit business in the form of a fee based municipal service. 

Note:  I had to edit this to get the lineup correct, as noted below in a comment by James B.  Thanks to him for not making it too embarrassing for me when pointing out my mistake.


Tom Poston – R.I.P.

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Justin Levine @ 1:29 pm

[posted by Justin Levine] 

My first job in showbiz was as an editing intern on The Newhart Show. So heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of Tom Poston, whom I knew to be an awesomely nice guy.

I’d argue that his best work was on the original Steve Allen Show. I’m not sure if it is on video anywhere, but check it out if you ever get a chance.  

Scott v. Harris: The Video Makes All the Difference

Filed under: Constitutional Law,Court Decisions,Crime,General — Patterico @ 12:02 am

The amazing thing to me about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in Scott v. Harris is that it would have been a completely different case without the videotape — a videotape that I will show you in this post.

Consider the basic facts. A deputy attempts to pull over a speeding motorist, who takes police on a high-speed chase. In an attempt to stop the suspect, a deputy eventually bumps the suspect’s car, causing it to spin out of control. The suspect ends up a quadriplegic, and he sues the deputy, alleging excessive force.

The legal issue in the case is simple: was the officer’s action in bumping the suspect’s car reasonable? This question hinges on another: was the suspect’s driving dangerous enough to justify using the possibly deadly force of bumping his car?

Normally, this would be a question for a jury. And that’s what the lower courts concluded in this case. The deputy filed for summary judgment and asserted that he was immune from suit. The District Court decided that the resolution of the immunity question depended on disputed issues of material fact, and ruled that the case could go to a jury. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

With no videotape, the Supreme Court almost certainly would have either declined to hear the case, or would simply have affirmed.

This means that the case would probably have gone to a jury — and God only knows what a jury would do in a case like this. With no videotape to justify the deputies’ actions, and a quadriplegic sitting in front of them, the sky could be the limit.

But luckily for the deputy, there is a videotape — and that fact changed everything. With it, the deputy’s lawyers (one of whom was Orin Kerr) were able to convince the Supreme Court that the deputy’s actions were reasonable as a matter of law, meaning that he was entitled to summary judgment. Bottom line: he wins — because of the video.

I don’t think this case can be properly discussed without looking at the video. So I’m going to show it to you.

The video, taken from the Supreme Court web site, splices together video from two separate cars. I have split the video into two files — one from each car — and uploaded them to YouTube. (I am not aware of anyone else who has done this, by the way. It took some work.) This allows you to watch the video as you read the commentary, which is critical to understanding the case.

Here is the view from the first car:

You can see that the video begins as a high-speed nighttime chase. The suspect’s car is being chased along a narrow two-lane road, and pulls into the lane of oncoming traffic at numerous points. To delineate where the action happens, I am going to use the counter just above the “SLP” on the right side of the screen. You see the suspect’s car swerve into the opposite lane of traffic at 2:01; 2:17 (around a blind curve); 2:44; 3:34; 3:39; and 3:45.

The suspect’s car pulls into a shopping center parking lot around 4:11. At 4:32, it appears to be surrounded, but escapes by clipping a patrol vehicle.

At 5:11, you can hear a deputy asking for permission to “spin him.” At 5:23 the suspect’s car crosses into the oncoming traffic lane again, as permission is given to “go ahead. Take him out. Take him out.”

At 6:17, you can barely see the patrol car running into the suspect car, and the suspect car goes off the road.

At 6:53 you see someone running up yelling: “We need an ambulance!”

At 7:55 a deputy says: “I saw him come by me at 73 miles an hour.”

At 8:35, a figure collapses, and the clip ends shortly thereafter.

Here is the view from the second car:

This car is driven by Deputy Scott, the deputy who ultimately bumped the suspect’s car, sending it off the road. Deputy Scott starts out the chase way behind the other police cars, and spends some time trying to catch up to the other vehicles in the pursuit. When the suspect’s car goes into the shopping center parking lot, Deputy Scott drives around to the other side, to cut him off. At 12:40, the suspect’s car comes right at Deputy Scott’s patrol car, and clips it two seconds later, at 12:42.

At 13:06, Deputy Scott, whose car was clipped in the parking lot, says: “Let me have him, 78, my car’s already tore up.”

At 13:34, Deputy Scott is given permission to “Take him out. Take him out.” He is now the lead vehicle in the pursuit. And at 14:24, Deputy Scott bumps the suspect, knocking him off the road.

Having had the chance to see it all unfold on the video(s), Justice Scalia describes the pursuit in this way:

In March 2001, a Georgia county deputy clocked respondent’s vehicle traveling at 73 miles per hour on a road with a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. The deputy activated his blue flashing lights indicating that respondent should pull over. Instead, respondent sped away, initiating a chase down what is in most portions a two-lane road, at speeds exceeding 85 miles per hour. The deputy radioed his dispatch to report that he was pursuing a fleeing vehicle, and broadcast its license plate number. Petititoner, Deputy Timothy Scott, heard the radio communication and joined the pursuit along with other officers. In the midst of the chase, respondent pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center and was nearly boxed in by the various police vehicles. Respondent evaded the trap by making a sharp turn, colliding with Scott’s police car, exiting the parking lot, and speeding off once again down a two-lane highway.

Following respondent’s shopping center maneuvering, which resulted in slight damage to Scott’s police car, Scott took over as the lead pursuit vehicle. Six minutes and nearly 10 miles after the chase had begun, Scott decided to attempt to terminate the episode by employing a “Precision Intervention Technique (‘PIT’) maneuver, which causes the fleeing vehicle to spin to a stop.” Brief for Petititoner 4. Having radioed his supervisor for permission, Scott was told to “‘[g]o ahead and take him out.'” Harris v. Coweta County, 433 F. 3d 807, 811 (CA11 2005). Instead, Scott applied his push bumper to the rear of respondent’s vehicle. As a result, respondent lost control of his vehicle, which left the roadway, ran down an embankment, overturned, and crashed. Respondent was badly injured and was rendered a quadriplegic.

This was a wildly different description from that given by the Court of Appeals, which had written that the suspect had maintained control of his car, slowed down for intersections, used his signal to indicate turns, and generally posed no serious danger to anyone out on the road. As Justice Scalia wrote: “Indeed, reading the lower court’s opinion, one gets the impression that [the suspect], rather than fleeing from police, was attempting to pass his driving test . . .” Justice Scalia ridiculed the lower court’s interpretation:

Far from being the cautious and controlled driver the lower court depicts, what we see on the video more closely resembles a Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of injury.

Everyone on the Supreme Court except for Justice Stevens agreed.

There is no question that the video is the only reason that eight members of the Court second-guessed the decisions of the courts below, and prevented this case from going to a jury.

Which raises an obvious question: how many police officers have suffered huge jury verdicts because there was no video to show that their actions were justified? It’s impossible to say. But this case is evidence that a video can make all the difference.

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