Another crime to classify

I’m betting this one lands in the “speed-related” file.

It was like a classic movie car chase, with the car speeding downhill until it hits a flat cross street and launches into the air. Except this was in Massachusetts instead of San Francisco, and there wasn’t a stunt driver behind the wheel so the car crashed and four people died.

It started when officers of the State Police gang unit saw a stolen car parked in a bad part of Springfield, turned on their flashing lights, and watched the car speed away.

Within 30 seconds four people were dead or dying. We don’t know, and may never know, if the victims knew the car was stolen. Only the driver survived. The DA was confident that he would be facing charges.

I wonder if they’ll charge refusing to stop for a police officer? When flashing lights go on behind a parked car, it’s a trap.

If you stay then you were free to go, but if you go you were illegally fleeing police. You get the first move, then the prosecutor gets the winning move. The purpose of this impossible-to-win game is to avoid losing criminal cases.

If police find something, then the encounter wasn’t a “seizure.” The driver voluntarily chose to remain and talk to the police. It’s the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment.

If the driver takes off, then it was a traffic stop and fleeing is a crime. It’s still a crime if police had no reason to stop the car. It’s also a crime to resist arrest if you didn’t commit the crime for which you were being arrested. Your only recourse is to sue. Massachusetts law says State Police are not personally liable for civil rights violations. So they’re not really worried.

It would be interesting to see the dashcam video.

But we’re talking about add-on charges here. Even the crime of riding in a stolen vehicle is minor compared to four counts of manslaughter.

This is likely to land in the “speed-related” statistical category. Literally, it fits — the driver was going too fast.

But it doesn’t support any of the policies that speed-related accidents are cited to support. It doesn’t say how we should regulate traffic or how police should enforce the law. There was a traffic signal at the intersection. There was a speed limit on the street. There was an officer right at the scene.

Actually one of those things did affect the accident. If there hadn’t been a police officer, four young people would be alive. This belongs in the “enforcement kills” bin as much as the “speed kills” bin.

But it doesn’t belong in either although it literally fits both.

Unlike traffic details, gang units are tackling real public safety problems. This is the real crime we say police should put away their radar guns to fight. According to police it wasn’t a high speed pursuit. Even in hindsight, it’s not clear they should have done anything differently.

Like the recent carload of dead kids in Vermont, this one is an ordinary crime that might end up misfiled with traffic statistics.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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