SCOTUS Denies Cert to Cops Who Tasered a Pregnant Woman

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Here’s what happened:

The U.S Supreme Court has refused to grant cert in an appeal by Seattle police officers who say they did not use excessive force when they used a Taser stun gun on a pregnant woman.

The court denied cert today, report SCOTUSblog, Reuters and CNN.

The woman, Malaika Brooks, was seven months pregnant when she was pulled over for going 32 miles an hour, 12 miles an hour over the limit in a school speed zone. She refused to sign the ticket and refused to exit her car.

But check the last sentence:

The en banc San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that police used excessive force, but they had immunity because the law was unclear.

So these cops were already off the hook for damages. They appealed anyway (with support from a number of police organizations), because they wanted the Supreme Court to forever preserve a police officer’s power to Tase pregnant women who drive 12 miles per hour over the speed limit and refuse to sign their speeding tickets.

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37 Responses to “SCOTUS Denies Cert to Cops Who Tasered a Pregnant Woman”

  1. #1 |  30 year lawyer | 

    Officer Friendly died of lung cancer in 1982. He left no relatives on the Force.

  2. #2 |  David McElroy | 

    Most police today seem interested mostly in persevering their legal ability to give pretty much any order to any person and have it obeyed. Minor things such as the law and justice are just inconvenient fictions they heard about briefly during training.

  3. #3 |  Peter H | 

    Only good thing is in the future, they can’t claim qualified immunity, since now there’s a binding precedent that it’s a no-no.

  4. #4 |  John Thacker | 

    Right, as Peter H notes, they were trying to help defend the immunity of future cops.

    Also, never read *too* much into the Supreme Court denying cert. There are always far, far too many worthy cases to examine than the SCOTUS has time for.

  5. #5 |  PeeDub | 

    Can someone define “denies cert” please?

  6. #6 |  Tommil | 

    John Thacker makes a good point. Also, forgive me for being cynical about some of the Justices but they could be waiting for a case that doesn’t come with the same negative visceral reaction that is present in this case to give the police all the immunity the police are want.

  7. #7 |  omar | 

    @ #5 PeeDub

    It means the SOCUS refuses to hear an appeal, and the judgement from the lower court stands.

    http://www.techlawjournal.com/glossary/legal/certiorari.htm

  8. #8 |  Whim | 

    I sometimes wonder if the Association of State Prosecutors carefully coordinates with the various police departments to create incidents specifically designed to continue to roll-back the civil rights of the citizenry.

    Like in cases where an overworked and disinterested public defender is the only legal obstacle to further eroding the civil rights of the citizenry. That public either may not try very hard or lack manpower or financial resources to zealously defend against that further erosion of civil rights.

  9. #9 |  Charlie O | 

    Awwww, just fuck the police.

  10. #10 |  Personanongrata | 

    What type of depraved turd stain do you have to be in order to tase a pregnant woman?

    Never mind the fact that her other children bore witness this wanton display of police “professionalism”.

  11. #11 |  John | 

    @6

    Thisthisthisthisthis. Times 1000, THIS. I’m not even going to knock this court, specifically. Courts have been doing their best to carve the officer-suspect encounter into a one way flow of power for a while now. Having to rule on a case in which the defendant was a pregnant woman, one of the few remaining things it is acceptable to be in society (other than a cop), would really cramp their style.

    Also, the balls on the cops for “a court found an excuse to give us immunity from punishment, but we want one to find an excuse to make us in the right” just blows my mind.

  12. #12 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Hope this type of shit becomes epidemic. It is about time someone realized these assholes were out of control. Like John said times this by a few hundred thousand and we the people might get our country back.

  13. #13 |  John P. | 

    Ive long subscribed to the theory of more is better, regarding this type of over the top out of control criminal cop behavior.

    The more people that fall victim to this type of abuse the better. Because that, evidentially is what it’s going to take to wake this stupid fucking country up.

  14. #14 |  Highway | 

    So these cops were already off the hook for damages. They appealed anyway (with support from a number of police organizations), because they wanted the Supreme Court to forever preserve a police officer’s power to Tase pregnant women who drive 12 miles per hour over the speed limit and refuse to sign their speeding tickets.

    Hey, it’s about the principle of the thing.

  15. #15 |  StrangeOne | 

    I’ve been thinking about the “it has to get worse before it gets better” mentality lately. I don’t think that really happens. I was listening to the Hardcore History podcast, and the most recent episode was called Logical Insanity. It was a long explanation of the escalation that occurred throughout WWI and WWII in regards to aerial combat, specifically the bombing of cities. The psychology of making the bombing runs bigger and deadlier throughout the war was to terrorize the enemy into surrender or revolution. But it never worked, both sides endured the fire bombings. I suggest checking out that podcast, because the true horror of the firebombings has to be understood to know what enduring that means.

    I understand there is a difference between domestic tyranny and attacks by an enemy. But, really, I look around the world at China, parts of the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, North Korea, and I see no degree of tyranny that a large population of people won’t become accustomed to. Culture doesn’t even seem to be a factor. Korea is an excellent example, you essentially have one culture thousands of years old that was arbitrarily divided between two states fifty plus years ago. One was shaped into a modern capitalist democracy and the other has become an absolutely brutal military dictatorship. Same people, same culture, and they prosper or suffer by a line drawn in the sand.

    Revolution never comes because a nation gets “bad enough”. It’s always the pursuit of a minority group. Either by a middle class over issues of money, or sociopaths seeking power. Maybe there are revolutions of principle but I can’t think of any that wouldn’t be better classified as one of the other two. I think it’s fair to say that revolution only occurs when some group will directly profit by it, and the incredible danger fostered by regime change prevents it from ever being a populist endeavor.

    The idea that more violence will somehow wake up working class people to abandon their jobs and family to go wage war on their own government is laughable. If they get drawn into the conflict they may indeed choose sides but it won’t be some spontaneous decision on their part. We laugh at senators when they say the increased violence in Mexico means we are winning the drug war, why would we take the same naive position on our growing police state? The escalation of violence only signifies the degree to which our government is loosing its respect for the rights and dignities of its citizens. There is no silver lining in this.

  16. #16 |  MacK | 

    “The en banc San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that police used excessive force, but they had immunity because the law was unclear.”

    Remember that for a citizen ignorance of the law is no excuse!!

    Next time you need to use the law is unclear excuse, so I was ignorant to it’s meaning, see how far that gets you.

  17. #17 |  Burgers Allday | 

    the woman claimed she was not riving over the speed limit and that another vehicle in proximity was.

    She claimed that she refused to sign the paperwork because she was concerned that it contained an admission of guilt.

    I have not seen the paperwork that they were trying to get this woman to sign, but paperwork from other jurisdictions are sometimes ambiguous as to whether guilt is being admitted.* When I have argued this issue in the past on the internet, people (lawyers, i think) take the position that even if the paperwork might facially appear to be an admission of guilt, it would never be used this way in a traffic court so you can just sign the paper there at the side of the road. Myself, I think that is hogwash. In civil cases it is common for a claimant to allege that the police at the stationhouse got them to sign papers under false pretences, and these “statements” do come back to haunt. I haven’t heard of it happening at a traffic court hearing, but nobody (and i mean nobody) knows what all really happens at all the traffic court hearings around this nation.

    point is: woman had a good reason not to sign. Also, the jurisdiction (Seattle? King Co.?) stopped having police forcing people to sign papers at roadside traffic stops, thus “mooting” any claims the woman wanted to make that the practice of forcing motorists to sign (upon pain of arrest) was unConstitutional. Obviously, this aspect of the case was not as egregious as the tasering, but it is an issue that deserves more attention than it is getting.

    FOOTNOTE:

    * Subtle point, perhaps too subtle for this blog (not sure): the trick I saw that was common to a couple of the tickets I reviewed would say (if read and parsed very carefully, and I mean very carefully) that the signature; (i) was NOT and admission of guilt; but (ii) was an admission of the “facts” filled in by the officer (for example, where the vehicle was when clocked, how fast the vehicle was going, etc.). In this case, the fact that the paperwork was not an admission of guilt would mean that the accused could argue that they had a necessity defense or an emergency vehicle exemption to the speed limit laws or the like, but (at least if the signed paperwork is taken seriously) the speeding defendant could not argue that the officer had a faulty gun or pulled over the wrong car or the like — this is because the fact of the speeding would be admitted even with the no-admission-of-guilt signed paperwork. pretty clever, huh?

  18. #18 |  nigmalg | 

    The cops need to be tasering people, beating people, getting caught on camera, and be 5 o’clock news every night walking out of courtrooms on qualified immunity.

    We need to grill the frog.

  19. #19 |  Burgers Allday | 

    So these cops were already off the hook for damages. They appealed anyway (with support from a number of police organizations), because they wanted the Supreme Court to forever preserve a police officer’s power to Tase pregnant women who drive 12 miles per hour over the speed limit and refuse to sign their speeding tickets.

    this isn’t really correct. Under qi law, the 9th circuit decision, as it stands, gives notice that the kind of tasering that happened in Seattle is unConstitutional and that all future policemen who do this in the 9th circuit will be on the hook for damages and (any available) injunctive relief.

    The way qi law is supposed to work is that policemen get one bite at the apple when it comes to a brand new type of constitutional violation (and taser play is pretty new, at least in the judicial timeframe). Policemen in all the “new style cases” (eg, taser, gps, flashbomb, etc) gets qi until some authoritative court (like the 9th Cir.) stands up and declares the new police behavior to be unConstitutional.

    In this case, the 9th cir. could have said that there was no previous notice that this kind of taser play was unConstitutional, consequently held that qi applied and then ended the case. This is what many courts (perhaps every circuit court other than the 9th cir) would have done. Police are happy (because nothing is declared unConstitutional). Court is happy (because it didn’t have to decide, one way or the other, if the behavior was unConstitutional or not). And the case becomes meaningless not just from the perspective of getting back the atty fees expended (generally by the atty herself), but also from the perspective of developing the law and giving notice of what the Constitutional law really is.

    Importantly: This is NOT what the 9th circuit did. Instead they, while denying damages, did give notice that this would not be tolerated in future cases in the 9th Circuit. One could argue, with some force, that this is exactly the best and fairest outcome here for all involved. This is how qi law is supposed to work, and also explains why police appealed what appears to be a win.

  20. #20 |  Mike T | 

    #10,

    What type of depraved turd stain do you have to be in order to tase a pregnant woman?

    If unborn children have no legal rights, then why would the police be expected to regard pregnancy as a special condition in which an act of force may cause grievous harm to a future citizen? This is one of many reasons why we pro-lifers have been warning that legalized abortion on demand has a destructive cultural influence. 50 years ago, not even a police union would have defended these cops.

  21. #21 |  nigmalg | 

    50 years ago, not even a police union would have defended these cops.

    So you’re claiming police unions are typically leftwing?

  22. #22 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Another thing: it is probably good that SCOTUS did not take this case. It would have put too much emphasis on the pregnancy. We would probably get a set of restrictive standards about how police must treat pregnant women (cf, Mike T.’s comment above), with the tacit negative pregnant (npi) being that everybody who is not pregnant is fair game.

    Don’t laugh. This kind of thing has happened.

    There was an exigent circumstances / emergency exception case at the Supreme Court in 2006 (called Brigham City) where the probable cause that a crime had been committed and the probability that a serious injury occurred was manifest. By “was manifest” I mean that the policemen saw one of the occupanys of the house punch a teeneager so hard in the face that blood came out of his head.

    In Brigham City, SCOTUS did not mention “probable cause” (that a crime had been committed) or probability that there was an injured person in the house. At the time it seemed like this omission in the SCOTUS opinion was merely because probable cause (or a crime) and probability of an injury were just so high and so obvious that no explication of this aspect of the legal analysis was needed.

    Unfortunately, what pro-prosecutor commentators (most notably Professor Kerr), and even some judges, have done is said that probable cause is not needed for the exigency exception and that a “probability” of injury is not needed for the emergency exception. they say that they know this because Brigham City did not discuss these probabilities in that case.

    So now the law of emergency / exigency is big mess (despite the best efforts of Rheinhardt in 9C),

    There is an old saw that hard cases make bad law. But sometimes easy cases make bad law too.

  23. #23 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    Would you have prefered they used a baton to strike her until she complied with their instructions to exit the vehicle because she was under arrest?

  24. #24 |  AnonymousCoward | 

    If unborn children have no legal rights, then why would the police be expected to regard pregnancy as a special condition in which an act of force may cause grievous harm to a future citizen?

    Yeah right. How about the pregnant woman? Moreover – reasonable people can disagree about where to draw the line on abortion, without succumbing to the false dichotomy you’re offering. Your having the ability to choose vanilla ice cream doesn’t mean that I can kick the cone out of your hand since I like strawberry.

  25. #25 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Would you have prefered they used a baton to strike her until she complied with their instructions to exit the vehicle because she was under arrest?

    No. here is what should have happened:

    Policeman: sign this paper.

    Woman: No. I think the paper may be used against me in a court of law to help establish criminal liability.

    Policeman: I never thought about it that way. So far as you can tell, I may be trying to trick you into incriminating yourself. I give you my word of honor that that is NOT what I am doing here.

    Woman: You can’t even tell which vehicle you had your speed gun pointed at when it beeped and woke you up. Why would I trust you about signing a legal document? You are not my lawyer.

    Policeman: But I need the signature so that we can find you to have the hearing on your speeding charge. My position is that my LIDAR was pointed at your vehicle and that you were the one speeding — not somebody else.

    Woman: You have my driver’s license. That gives you all you need to know to know that you can find me later. My signature on your paper does not add anything to the level of confidence that you already have with respect to my true identity.

    Policeman: You are right! If you gave me a fake DL, then you would just fake the signature on my paperwork. So this paperwork really has no apparent purpose.

    Woman: That is exactly why I m suspicious in the paperwork in the first place. If it has no legit purpose that is apparent, then it is either meaningless or else has an evil purpose.

    Policeman: I would feel the same way in your shoes.

    Woman: You mean if you were pregnant?

    Policeman: *laughing* No, if some policeman was insisting I sign anything without being able to consult my lawyer. That would be a huge red flag to me.

    Woman: Well, what can we do then.

    Policeman: I am going to let you go. I will even forgive your speeding (I still think you did it) because you have taught me an important lesson today — an important lesson about JUSTICE! Forgiving your speeding seems like a fair trade in exchange for the gentle education with which you have provided me in respect of my paperwork.

    Woman: Without admission of anything, I am amenable to the proposed trade.

    Policeman: Have a blessed day!

    Woman: You too. Make sure to always buckle up. Don’t become a sttistic. *drives away *

    That is exactly what should have happened.

  26. #26 |  CyniCAl | 

    “They appealed anyway (with support from a number of police organizations), because they wanted the Supreme Court to forever preserve a police officer’s power to Tase pregnant women who drive 12 miles per hour over the speed limit and refuse to sign their speeding tickets.”

    Yes, but let me simplify it for you, because there will even more shocking abuses of police power in the future that will make us yearn for the good old days of tazing pregnant women.

    It is policy that the police fight for NO LIMITS ON THEIR POWER (save their own personal judgment). Any external limit, any single one, is a threat to their safety, which we all know is the one and only concern of theirs.

    Arguments ad absurdum fail because there is literally no argument too absurd that would cause police to moderate their fight for no limits on their power.

    Since police are the armed enforcement wing of the State, I think it is easy to predict who, over time, will win this battle. One might say it is already won, simply by playing the game.

  27. #27 |  CyniCAl | 

    Enjoyed reading your comment Strange One. I was reminded of this: “… all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

  28. #28 |  CyniCAl | 

    @ #20 | Mike T

    Murder … Charges … Unborn … Child via Google Search

    http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=murder%20charges%20unborn%20child&oq=murder%20charges%20unborn%20&aq=1K&aqi=g-K2&aql=&gs_l=hp.11.1.0i30l2.0.0.2.436.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0…0.0.dHSc8IL9YCk&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=5a9e2f4e506b37d1&biw=1920&bih=921&pf=p&pdl=300

    Of course, these are only cases that do not involve State agents, who may, acting in the line of duty, kill the living with impunity.

  29. #29 |  Mike T | 

    #21

    So you’re claiming police unions are typically leftwing?

    In the context of American politics, yes, since “American conservatives” generally passionately hate unions.

    #28

    Those cases also tend to be focused more in the South and Maryland, where pro-life sentiment is much higher than it is on the West Coast and North East. If she had miscarried, it wouldn’t have been hard to see a NC jury (one of the results that came up) finding in her favor on all counts of excessive force.

  30. #30 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Cynical “Any external limit, any single one, is a threat to their safety, which we all know is the one and only concern of theirs.”

    So it seems much of the time. I do know of some officers who still seem to have other priorities, but I digress.

    Perhaps we need to go retro, Cynical. Now we both know that people are getting more adept at recording police. Maybe this should be combined with the Black Panther concept of armed patrols monitoring police behavior in communities. Of course, this would be most feasible in areas with open carry laws, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. Since too many officers feel that they can attack people with cameras–no matter what the laws say in their state–maybe citizens armed with both cameras AND firearms are part of the answer. In most cases, of course, the cameras, and verbal persuasion, should be emphasized much more than the firearm.

    On a side note, a movement like this may well lead to a shift in conservative opinion on gun control. In the 60’s, fear of the Black Panthers led Ronald Regan to support gun control measures in California. The NRA was also much less vocal about open/concealed carry in those days. See, it all depends on who’s at the trigger! A movement of armed “cop watching” might turn gun lovers into gun grabbers over night.

    Just an idea.

  31. #31 |  Temper Bay | 

    Had it been my pregnant wife this clown tasered, being denied the Court’s cert is the least thing this cop should worry about. I don’t have a taser so I can’t use one, but what I do have I would use, and he would taser no more.

  32. #32 |  peck | 

    My 1911 will stop any taser attack.

  33. #33 |  CyniCAl | 

    With all due respect, those last three comments, if the policies advocated are pursued, will get people killed and will not change anything. Not that I think anything will change anything at this point, but none of those ideas are workable. I’m just out of ideas at this point. Take care of the people you love.

  34. #34 |  peck | 

    Hey CyniCAL, without the above policies, people are getting killed. The wrong ones. Cops are killing citizens every day “because they can”. Cops are costumed thugs, bullies and cowards. There are no more “good cops”.

  35. #35 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #33 Cynical:
    The tactic I suggested could lead to people getting killed, but I don’t think it’s that likely. Remember that I said the following: “In most cases, of course, the cameras, and verbal persuasion, should be emphasized much more than the firearm.” The guns–whether carried openly or in a concealed manner–would basically be there to make a point or to be used in the even of some extreme circumstance.

    I want to stress that I’m not advocating vigilantism or provacative harassment of officers. Some groups–such as “Cop Block”– sometimes seem to cross this line, and I don’t agree with such actions. I am only advocating accountability. Unlike some commenters I am not trying to play “internet tough guy” (a phrase recently used quite effectively by commenter Omar). I am just theorizing that combining two forms of American-style civil disobedience may be an option to re-assert the supremacy of citizens over state agents.

  36. #36 |  chris gill | 

    wow. I have not received many tickets in my 57 years (40 of driving) but every one I have received had a statement somewhere around the John Hancock line has a statement that signing is only an acknowledgement of receiving the summons (or ticket) I am surprised that many bloggers here assume it was not. Incidents like above are usually covered under the admin practices the police must use. In Maine I was told if the person was simply not willing to sign, then the officer will write “refused to sign” and verbally inform you of the court date and go his way. you will receive a mail with copy of ticket but if you don’t show you will lose automatically. And from what I have seen it never goes well for you to refuse to sign.
    It may be the policy is to arrest. or in this case the combatant attitude may be the real reason the arrest was made. Also the courts frequently make decisions that don’t account for the real world. They declared excessive force was used but failed to say what they should have done…

  37. #37 |  TheHolyCrow | 

    Recently a study of brain structure was
    done and it seems that six percent of the
    population has brain anomalies that tend
    to cause these afflicted people to exhibit
    Psychopathic behavior. These people should
    be screened out from becoming police officers,
    politicians, CEO’s, or any position where they
    could exert evil influence over the general
    population. People in powerful positions
    should also be required to pee in the cup on
    a very regular basis to make sure they are not
    taking steroids and other dangerous drugs.

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