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High-Speed Chase Reaches Supreme Court
Court Feed News | 2007/02/26 18:36

The Supreme Court finds itself smack in the middle of a big debate over high-speed chases.

Officers in Georgia were chasing a speeding Victor Harris in 2001 when a cruiser rammed Harris' Cadillac at roughly 90 miles-per-hour, sending him into an embankment and leaving him paralyzed.

Harris sued Deputy Timothy Scott for violating his civil rights by using excessive force. Scott said he was trying to end the chase before anybody got hurt. Two lower courts sided with Harris.

This will be the first time in more than 20 years that the high court considers constitutional limits on police use of deadly force to stop fleeing suspects.

Harris' lawyer argues something more serious than a traffic violation has to occur before such force is used. Scott's attorney counters he didn't use excessive force, and that Harris was driving recklessly.

Egypt cleric claims CIA torture in 2003 rendition from Italy
Legal World News | 2007/02/26 05:02

Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr said in a live television interview with Al Jazeera Sunday that he was "savagely tortured by the CIA when kidnapped" and taken from Milan to Egypt in 2003. Nasr, who has been at the heart of Italian judicial proceedings against US and Italian intelligence agents implicated in his alleged kidnapping, did not say in the interview whether he was tortured during his four years of Egyptian imprisonment, although he alleged that previously. He also personally revealed plans previously disclosed by his lawyer to sue former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [JURIST news archive] for his participation in the abduction, as well as plans to seek monetary compensation from the US for his suffering.

Nasr was released from prison earlier this month. The US State Department has refused to comment on his case.

World court finds Serbia innocent of genocide charge
Legal World News | 2007/02/26 04:58

SERBIA did not commit genocide against Bosnia during the 1992-5 war, the United Nation's highest court has ruled in a landmark case - but it said that the country had violated its responsibility to prevent genocide.

Bosnia had asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ), based in The Hague, to rule on whether Serbia had committed genocide through the killing, rapes and ethnic cleansing that overtook Bosnia during the war.

It was the first time a sovereign state had been tried for genocide, outlawed in a UN convention in 1948 after the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews.

A judgment in Bosnia's favour could have allowed the country to seek billions of pounds of compensation from Serbia.

Judge Rosalyn Higgins, the ICJ president, said the court concluded that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys did constitute genocide, but that other mass killings of Bosnian Muslims did not.

But she said the court ruled that the Serbian state could not be held directly responsible for genocide, so paying reparations to Bosnia would be inappropriate even though Serbia had failed to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators.

"The court finds by 13 votes to two that Serbia has not committed genocide," she said. "The court finds that Serbia has violated the obligation to prevent genocide ... in respect of the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica."

Some 8,000 Muslims from Srebrenica and surrounding villages in eastern Bosnia were killed in July 1995. The bodies of almost half of them have been found in more than 80 mass graves nearby.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, both accused of genocide over Srebrenica, are still on the run.

Reacting to the ruling in Belgrade, the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, urged the country's parliament to condemn the massacre. "For all of us, the very difficult part of the verdict is that Serbia did not do all it could to prevent genocide," he told a news conference.

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).

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