Police chases and high-speed driving are common practices that pose a substantial amount of harm and are often unjustified. The benefits of such chases are questionable, and rapid police action at all costs is often unnecessary. When bystanders are injured as a result of police high-speed driving, there are few avenues to have their rights vindicated, and federal court cases require plaintiffs to meet an almost impossible burden. However, under the United States Supreme Court case of County of Sacramento v. Lewis, a plaintiff can put forth evidence that their substantive due process right to life under the Fourteenth Amendment was violated as a result of a police officer's actions during a chase that resulted in harm. Liability depends on a plaintiff's ability to show that the police officer's actions "shocked the conscience." In the police high-speed driving context, an officer's conduct shocks the conscience if the officer acted with the intent to bring about the harm that he caused. Such results are hardly ever the result of intentional action, but a blatant disregard of the risks. While most federal circuit courts follow this standard, some allow for the finding of liability on the less burdensome standard of recklessness.
In the Eighth Circuit, if the officer believed he was responding to an emergency and causes harm, the Plaintiff would have to show that the officer intended to bring about the harm that resulted. The intent to harm standard would apply regardless of the objective circumstances, so long as the officer believed he was acting in an emergency. The latitude police have on our nation's roadways and the deference they are given in our society warrants a reconsideration of what standards should apply and when. This Note argues that the potential harm caused by high-speed police driving is significant and often unjustified. While the current legal standards allow for some avenues of recourse for victims, they are limited and require a high burden of proof. It is necessary to re-evaluate and establish more reasonable standards for police conduct during high-speed pursuits to ensure public safety and prevent unnecessary harm.
In Pursuit of a Modern Standard: The Constitutional Proportions of Collateral Harm From Pursuits and Police High-Speed Driving,
71 Clev. St. L. Rev.
available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol71/iss4/10