In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Seattle police were operating within the law when they tasered a pregnant woman – tasered her again, and then tasered her a third time – while she was strapped into the driver’s seat of a car with no keys in the ignition. In an unusually strongly-worded opinion, the dissenting judge, Marsha Berzon, called the decision “off the wall” and chastised her colleagues:
“I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense," she wrote. … Berzon said the majority's notion that Brooks obstructed officers was so far-fetched that even the officers themselves didn't make that legal argument. To obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer's official duties, and the officers' only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks' failure to sign did not interfere with those duties, she said. Furthermore, Brooks posed no apparent threat, and the officers could not have known how stunning her would affect the fetus, or whether it might prompt premature labor — another reason their actions were inexcusable.
The most stunning aspect of this case – aside from, you know, the electrocution of a defenseless pregnant woman for having the audacity to not be nice to her bullies, is that the defense was able to successfully argue the use of force was justified based on the potential threat the victim might pose at some hypothetical point following the traffic stop. Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."
Yes. And she also could have also been hiding a bomb in her trunk, been planning to download copywritten materials, or had a genetic mutation allowing her to spit acid out of her eyes. Yet we are afforded protection by the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution against having to defend ourselves against potential crimes when there is no reasonable expectation that such crimes will be committed. As the prosecution and single sane judge rightfully argued, being angry at a traffic stop is not a crime, refusing to sign a ticket is not an arrestable offense, nor is it against the law to resist an illegal detention. It IS, however, unlawful to physically assault a helpless pregnant woman who poses no threat to your safety.
This trend is disturbing – not simply the fact that wearing a badge seems to make anything you say a de facto lawful order – a fact that most minorities in the U.S. are already familiar with, but that the courts – and worse, the American people – seem to be increasingly willing to bypass constitutional liberties in favor of authoritarianism. As digby points out - “where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.”