West Law Report

Reasonableness of Forcible Seizure and Fourth Amendment

A leading case summery of Harvard Law Review: Scott v. Harris (2007) (12 pages)

Fourth Amendment – Reasonableness of Forcible Seizure

The Supreme Court has long struggled to determine the circumstances under which public officers should be protected from civil liability. In 2001, Saucier v. Katz established a two-pronged test for resolving such qualified immunity claims. In the first step, a court asks if,
“[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, . . . the facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right.” Only if the plaintiff establishes a constitutional violation does a court then look to whether the officer is entitled to qualified immunity, determining “whether, at the time of the incident, every objectively reasonable [officer] would have realized the acts violated already clearly established federal law.”

Last Term, in Scott v. Harris, the Supreme Court held that an officer’s use of deadly force to terminate a car chase was not a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights and thus did not satisfy the first prong of the Saucier test. The Court’s opinion rested on an unsatisfying constitutional holding, the result of its adherence to the problematic Saucier decision. A better approach would have been for the Court to decline to apply the Saucier standard in the prescribed sequence and instead to decide the case on qualified immunity grounds alone.

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