This is the story of a long forgotten crazy car and truck roadblock accident case that went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. In Brower v. County of Inho (1989) a criminal died because a bunch of Local cops thought it was a good idea to block the highway with an 18 wheeler tractor trailer truck and conceal the road block in order to stop the criminal who had stolen a car and was speeding recklessly.
The criminal had been chased by police cruisers for 20 miles. Predictably this criminal met his untimely death when he crashed the stolen automobile into a big rig barrier, road block. It is somewhat rare for a car or truck crash case to make it all the way to the top Court in The United States!
Wrongful death or justified force?
RI Personal Injury Lawyer David Slepkow’s (401-437-1100) editor’s Note: Perhaps it would have been better to let him run out of gas, shoot his tires or otherwise blowout his tires? But at the end of the day the criminal died and the litigation began. Was this a wrongful death or justified police conduct? (The State of RI has a wrongful death statute that would pertain to deadly crashes like this that occur in Rhode Island)
“On the night of October 23, 1984, William James Caldwell (Brower) was killed when the stolen car that he had been driving at high speeds for approximately 20 miles in an effort to elude pursuing police crashed into a police roadblock.” BROWER v.COUNTY OF INYO 489 U.S. 593 (1989)
Crash into truck staged by police
Police used “brutal, excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary physical force” in establishing the roadblock, and thus effected an unreasonable seizure of Brower, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Petitioners alleged that “under color of statutes, regulations, customs and usages,” respondents (1) caused an 18-wheel tractor-trailer to be placed across both lanes of a two-lane highway in the path of Brower’s flight, (2) “effectively concealed” this roadblock by placing it behind a curve and leaving it unilluminated, and (3) positioned a police car, with its headlights on, between Brower’s oncoming vehicle and the truck, so that Brower would be “blinded” on his approach. App. 8-9. Petitioners further alleged that Brower’s fatal collision with the truck was “a proximate result” of this official conduct. Id., at 9.”
QUICK Facts: “The police set out a roadblock. The roadblock was established by parking a tractor trailer in the middle of the 2 lane highway which blocked both lanes and a police vehicle with its lights flashing was parked in front of the tractor. The deceased crashed into the tractor trailer and was killed. The decendent’s family filed a 1983 action claiming that the deceased’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizure were violated by the officers who were acting under the color of law.” Source 4law sachool http://www.4lawschool.com/criminal/brower.htm
Editors notes: it is true that this guy stole a car but it also appears that placing a big rig across the highway to stop and Kill the guy him was cruel, unusual and barbaric. This was not a well thought out idea and effectively constituted a death penalty.
A roadblock collision as a search?
His heirs, petitioners here, brought this action in Federal District Court under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, he District Court granted respondents’ motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on the ground (insofar as the Fourth Amendment claim was concerned) that “establishing a roadblock [was] not unreasonable under the circumstances.” App. to Pet. for Cert. A-21. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Fourth Amendment claim on the basis that no “seizure” had occurred. 817 F. 2d 540, 545-546 (1987). We granted certiorari, 487 U. S. 1217 (1988), to resolve a conflict between that decision and the contrary holding 595*595 of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Jamiesonv. Shaw, 772 F. 2d 1205 (1985).
United States Supreme Court Ruling
“The complaint here sufficiently alleges that respondents, under color of law, sought to stop Brower by means of a roadblock and succeeded in doing so. That is enough to constitute a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for consideration of whether the District Court properly dismissed the Fourth Amendment claim 600*600 on the basis that the alleged roadblock did not effect a seizure that was “unreasonable.” BROWER v.COUNTY OF INYO, 489 U.S. 593 (1989) See part 2 (coming soon) : case remanded to the United States Court of Appeals, ninth Circuit to see whether search was unreasonable http://www.leagle.com/decision/19892200884F2d1316_11955
Post By Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney. David Slepkow 401-437-1100