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California Top court to decide police chase liability
Court Feed News | 2007/02/25 18:05

The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that will test the limits of what officers can do to stop speeding drivers in high-speed chases.

At issue before the court is whether a Georgia police officer went too far when he rammed his vehicle into a car driven by a fleeing 19-year-old -- a maneuver that left the motorist paralyzed.

Law enforcement officers around the country are anxiously watching the case, concerned that a ruling for the quadriplegic driver would put them in legal jeopardy for split-second decisions at crime scenes.

Meanwhile, civil liberties advocates and critics of police chases are concerned that a ruling for the officer in the case would give law enforcement the green light to use more aggressive tactics on the roads.

Law enforcement agencies should "authorize high-speed pursuits only when necessary," said Karen Blum, a law professor at Suffolk University in Boston, who filed a brief in the case for the National Police Accountability Project. "The tactics employed by (the officer in this case) present serious issues of police accountability and raise questions about police tactics."

The chase occurred in 2001 in Coweta County, Ga., a community about 30 miles southwest of Atlanta. Victor Harris, 19 at the time, was clocked driving 73 mph in a 55-mph zone. A county sheriff flashed his lights and turned on his siren, but Harris hit the gas and sped away. Deputy Timothy Scott joined the pursuit, which lasted for six minutes and covered almost 9 miles.

A trial court found that Harris drove between 70 and 90 mph, ran through two red lights, and bumped Scott's vehicle once. Nevertheless, Harris still used his turn indicators when passing other cars on the largely vacant roads.

Scott radioed a supervisor and got permission to use a "precision intervention technique" -- a maneuver for hitting another car that causes it to spin and then stop. But the deputy ultimately abandoned the technique because he and Harris were driving too fast on a wet, two-lane highway.

Instead, Scott hit Harris' car with his push bumper -- a move that caused the vehicle to careen down an embankment. Harris, who was not wearing a seat belt, was paralyzed from the neck down.

Harris filed a lawsuit against Scott, alleging violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable seizures and excessive force.

A federal district court in Georgia ruled that the deputy could be held liable in civil court for using deadly force without having probable cause to believe the teenager had committed a serious crime or posed a threat to others. In December 2005, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

Scott appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments in the case on Monday.

The deputy was acting "reasonably," argued his attorney, Philip Savrin, because a "fleeing car can be a deadly weapon" and Scott "believed that his actions avoided a greater risk of serious injury or death."

Savrin added: "Scott personally observed Harris driving recklessly and dangerously at extremely high speeds, through red lights and on the wrong side of the road. Scott properly recognized that Harris was a continuing danger to the public, and he acted reasonably to defuse the danger."

The Supreme Court's ruling in the case is expected to set new benchmarks for when and how law enforcement officers can chase suspects and use their vehicles to stop them.

The issue is murky because the previous two rulings on the use of deadly force were roughly two decades ago -- and those did not deal with car chases.

For instance, in 1985, the Supreme Court said deadly force can be used when a suspect threatens an officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a crime causing serious physical harm.

In 1989, the high court said judges deciding whether the use of deadly force is reasonable must weigh the underlying crime involved, the immediate threat a suspect poses and whether the suspect is actively evading arrest.

Harris' attorney, Craig Jones, argued that Harris' only offense at the beginning of the police chase was speeding -- a relatively minor crime that did not warrant such a risky pursuit.

Jones warned that a ruling against his client would give law enforcement officers carte blanche to recklessly and "knowingly apply deadly force in circumstances when no life is in immediate danger in order to seize a fleeing traffic offender."

International Court To Rule On Yugoslav Genocide Case
Legal World News | 2007/02/25 18:04

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is scheduled to rule Monday on the genocide suit filed in 1993 by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Yugoslavia.

Basing its charges on the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide, Bosnia brought the case before the United Nations high court demanding damages.

In the 1990s, Serb-dominated Yugoslavia moved militarily against its regions that were seeking independence. Serbia stands as the accused since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

The case is the first in which the UN court will apply the 1948 convention.

The Bosnian genocide case is not connected with trials by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, before which individual war crimes suspects must personally answer. The tribunal, which has already ruled that the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica was genocide.

US rejects international call to ban cluster munitions
Legal World News | 2007/02/25 06:14

The United States Friday rejected an international call to ban the use of cluster munitions by 2008. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters at a daily press briefing that the United States "takes the position that munitions do have a place and a use in military inventories, given the right technology as well as the proper rules of engagement." McCormack emphasized that the United States has spent "about a billion dollars" in the past decade to clean up "unexploded munitions all around the world." Meanwhile Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged "all progress to reduce and ultimately eliminate the horrendous humanitarian effects of these weapons." Ban also called on the parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to reexamine the "reliability... technical and design characteristics of cluster munitions with a view to minimizing their humanitarian impact."

Earlier Friday, 46 of 49 countries participating in the two-day Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions agreed to an action plan to develop a new international treaty to ban the use of cluster munitions by 2008. Romania, Poland and Japan refused to sign the Oslo Declaration. The United States, Russia, Israel, and China chose not to attend the conference. Cluster munitions are considered by many to be inaccurate weapons designed to spread damage indiscriminately and could therefore be considered illegal [CMC backgrounder] under multiple provisions of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (1977).

FDA confirms salmonella came from peanut butter
Class Action News | 2007/02/24 18:33

An outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that has sickened 329 people and sent 51 of them to the hospital was definitely caused by contaminated Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday. The FDA has warned consumers not to eat any Peter Pan peanut butter bought since May of last year and to throw out any Great Value brand -- sold by Wal-Mart Inc. -- with the lot number 2111 on the lid.

"Product testing by several states has now confirmed that Peter Pan peanut butter and certain Great Value brand peanut butter are the sources of the foodborne illness outbreak of Salmonella Tennessee that began in August 2006," the FDA said in a statement released late on Friday.

"To date 329 individuals have become ill from consuming the contaminated peanut butter, and 51 of those persons were hospitalized."

The FDA said the outbreak was still going on. "Potentially contaminated products include 3/4 ounce and 1.1 ounce single serving packs of Peter Pan brand peanut butter," the FDA said.

S Korea to retake military command
Legal World News | 2007/02/24 09:36

The United States will hand back wartime operational control of South Korea's armed forces in 2012. The deal reached between Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, and Kim Jang Soo, his Korean counterpart, will end a command arrangement that has been in place since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Under the deal announced on Friday, the current ROK (South Korea)-US Combined Forces Command, which is headed by a US general, will be disbanded, and American forces in the country will move into a supporting role.
"The agreement will serve as a key launching pad for a take-off in the South Korea-US alliance, praised as the most successful bond in the past 50 years," the South Korean president's office said in a statement.

The United States, stretched by engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, had hoped to transfer command as early as 2009, but ultimately agreed to South Korea's insistence that responsibilities be shifted at a slower pace.

Survivors await UN court's Bosnian war ruling
Legal World News | 2007/02/24 09:28

Survivors and relatives of victims of the Srebrinica massacre are on their way to The Hague for a ruling on a demand to hold Serbia accountable for mass killings during the Bosnian War. The case, brought by Bosnia, has been described as one of the most significant in the International Court's history. "We've been waiting a long time, and now we want to go there and witness justice for ourselves," said one woman boarding a bus in Sarajevo for The Hague. "We have been deceived many times before and now we want justice, finally," another said.

The UN Court in The Hague opened the case last year, 13 years after Bosnia first sued what remained of the Yugoslav state from which it broke away in 1992. At least 100,000 died in the ensuing conflict. Bosnia says modern-day Serbia should pay billions of euros in compensation for the genocide and other war crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims during the fighting.

The most notorious episode came at Srebrinica when around 8,000 Bosnian men were massacred. Serbia's lawyers have argued the case between two multi-ethnic states does not reflect a war fought along ethnic lines. The ruling is expected on Monday.

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