Terry Jeffrey

Harris, of course, should have fastened his seat belt. Alas, he did not. He is now a paraplegic.

Even so, you might have thought Harris would end up in court, considering all the things he did not do. And he did. But he is not the one in trouble. Deputy Scott is.

Harris sued him. He argues Scott's action that night violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from "unreasonable" seizures. The case was argued in the Supreme Court on Monday.

If common sense governed in this case, there would be no case. Deputy Scott acted reasonably under the circumstances. But common sense has not governed in this case, federal judges have.

Over the years, federal judges have encrusted the common sense language of the Constitution with convoluted legalisms. The Fourth Amendment guarantee against "unreasonable" seizures is no exception.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, ruling against Scott, decided the relevant encrustation in this case was a Supreme Court precedent called Tennessee v. Garner. It examined an instance where a policeman shot a fleeing unarmed burglar as he climbed a fence. "A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non-dangerous suspect by shooting him in the head," ruled the Supreme Court.

At the same time, the Supreme Court said: "Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force."

With telling irony, the 11th Circuit decided that Harris in his speeding car was "unarmed" and "non-dangerous," but that Scott unconstitutionally endangered him by turning his sheriff's car into an instrument of "deadly force."

It would be nice to believe the judges who decided this case in the lower courts put the legitimate interests of law-abiding citizens above the claimed rights of reckless lawbreaker.

They did not.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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