High-speed pursuits by police officers have been debated as to whether they are beyond the limits by putting people in unnecessary danger or if they are justifiable in every aspect. In the case of the County of Sacramento v. the Estate of Phillip Lewis a high-speed pursuit ended in the death of one of the fleeing suspects. Parents of Phillip Lewis brought claims against the county, sheriff’s department and the deputy involved, saying that the actions taken by the officer and the policy of sheriff’s department are deprivation of life without due process. This case was first taken to the district court then to court of appeals and eventually ended up in the United States Supreme Court.
On May 22, 1990 two Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies were responding to a call to break up a fight. While returning to their cars one of the officers, Murray Stapp noticed a motorcycle moving at rather high speeds. The motorcycle was being operated by 18-year-old Brian Willard and carrying a 16-year-old passenger by the name of Phillip Lewis. Neither the operator nor the passenger of the motorcycle had anything to do with the fight being responded to.
Stapp, in attempt to stop the boys turned on his overhead rotating lights and moved his car closer to the other responding officer’s, James Smith, squad car in order to block the path of the motorcycle. Willard slowly maneuvered the motorcycle through the blocking cars and accelerated away. Both officers immediately switched on their lights and followed in pursuit of the motorcycle. The chase continued for approximately 75 seconds through residential neighborhoods at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. Smith’s car was following at dist...
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...uspected offender.”(Souter) The court said that an officer did in fact not violate the due process protection since there was no “purpose to cause harm unrelated to the legitimate object of arrest.”(Souter)
With the decision in this case of Sacramento v. Lewis cases of deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process when dealing with high-speed pursuits will have a previous decision to look back on. High-speed pursuits are still debated as being worth the risk given to officers, suspects, and even innocent bystanders. In this case Officer Smith also failed to follow many of the procedures of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department but that is another case altogether. In United States Supreme Court issued its decision, over eight years after the incident, that fourteenth amendment argument against high-speed pursuits have no standing in court.
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