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Once Again, Justice Sotomayor Proves Herself an Ally Against Police Brutality
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Sonia Sotomayor

Summary: In a recent Supreme Court decision, Sotomayor was the sole dissent in a case regarding police use of deadly force on an American citizen.

On March 23, 2010, trooper Chadrin Mullinex of the Texas Department of Public Safety fired six shots at Israel Leija Jr’s car. Leija was allegedly armed and intoxicated, and he was the subject of a high-speed police chase. Instead of seeing if the spike strips he had put out stopped the runaway, Mullinex chose to fire his gun at Leija’s car – even ignoring the orders of his supervisor not to shoot.

  
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Four of Mullinex’s six bullets hit Leija, killing him.

A Department of Public Safety review found that Mullinex had “acted recklessly,” without “sufficient legal or factual justification to use deadly force.” Nonetheless, on Monday, the Supreme Court held that Mullinex’s actions did not violate “clearly established constitutional law.” This was yet another example of what the people of the United States have been protesting over the past few years – violent and reckless behavior exhibited by police officers.

The majority opinion rationalized the officer’s use of deadly force, saying that during car chases, the standards for application of this law is “hazy.” Only Justice Sotomayor dissented against the ruling, which granted Mullinex qualified immunity.

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Sotomayor has repeatedly proven herself as an outspoken critic of police violence, and this decision was no exception. Once again, she was in the position of reminding her fellow justices and the American public that police operate under constitutional limits, intended to protect individual citizens from police brutality and the use of deadly force.

“Mullenix ignored the longstanding and well-settled Fourth Amendment rule that there must be a governmental interest not just in seizing a suspect, but in the level of force used to effectuate that seizure,” Sotomayor wrote. She continued:



When Mullenix confronted his superior officer after the shooting, his first words were, “How’s that for proactive?” (Mullenix was apparently referencing an earlier counseling session in which Byrd suggested that he was not enterprising enough.) The glib comment does not impact our legal analysis; an officer’s actual intentions are irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment’s “objectively reasonable” inquiry. But the comment seems to me revealing of the culture this Court’s decision supports when it calls it reasonable—or even reasonably reasonable—to use deadly force for no discernible gain and over a supervisor’s express order to “stand by.” By sanctioning a “shoot first, think later” approach to policing, the Court renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow.

Once again, Justice Sotomayor joins members of the American public in protesting police brutality, violence, and the use of excessive force. Although it is disgraceful that eight of Sotomayor’s fellow justices aren’t as tuned into the injustice of police behavior, Sotomayor offers a degree of comfort – at least they’re not all oblivious to the ugliness pervasive in interactions between the police force and citizens in this country.

 

Article and Image Source:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/11/sonia_sotomayor_dissents_in_mullenix_police_shooting_case.html



 

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