Monday, March 29, 2010

Federal Court Says Tasering of Pregnant Woman Was Justified

The story goes like this: A woman is pulled over for doing 32 MPH in a school zone. She contends that it was the car in front of her that was speeding, and therefore she refuses to sign the ticket (being under the incorrect impression that it would be tantamount to admitting guilt).

Now, as the police officer on the scene, you have two options. You can (A) give her the ticket anyway and send her on her way (it is not required that the driver sign the ticket) or (B) attempt to arrest her and tase her when she refuses to get out of the car. The police opted for second strategy, naturally, and now the court has sided with the officers, saying that the tasing was justified as a response to her resisting arrest. The problem is, as the dissenting judge notes, that failure to sign a traffic ticket is not an offense you can be arrested for, and you can't be charged with resisting arrest if the arrest itself is unlawful.

For me, however, the issue is much more basic: The use of tasers by police was billed as a less-injurious, non-lethal method of incapacitating an unruly suspect than a standard police baton. Therefore, the test for whether or not to use a taser on someone is as simple as: "If I didn't have the taser, would I hit them with my baton instead?" Unfortunately, since it usually leaves little or no obvious injuries, the taser is now often used not as a method to subdue dangerous suspects, but instead as an all-purpose "do as I say" device and in situations where no danger to the officers is present.

Would we, as a society, as readily accept the use of a police baton in cases like this across the country? Would the court find the use of a baton on a pregnant mother accused of speeding "justified"? I would hope not, but I've been surprised before.

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