Sandra Bland’s death has returned the debate over the criteria for justified detention to center stage. After a tumultuous few years with increasing claims of abuse of power towards minorities by police, the national tension between police and public has never been higher. What has become a critical factor in determining when force is justified is the step before hand – when has the criteria for justified detention been met? Very few of the cases highlighted in the media involve an officer shooting a suspect from a distance who they have had no contact with. Almost all of the cases evolve from the point at which the officer determined the person needed to be detained in any manner.
Looking at the Bland tape
Forget all of the other aspects of the Bland tape and consider the crucial moment when the police officer decides that Bland must be removed from the car. This is a decision involving justifiable detention. Up until this point there is nothing that separates this encounter from any routine traffic stop, which is why you won’t be needing a lawyer. What is the center of the discussion is what happened that allowed the officer to determine that there was a need to detain Bland. The general consensus is that the officer acted in error. There is little to support detention from what can be seen.
Thinking about what is not seen
The complicating issue is that no video tape can replicate what is not seen. As even family members have said, Bland had been depressed and had suicidal ideation earlier in life. While they note that she had recently landed a dream job and was in good spirits – looking at the tape begins to suggest that what is not seen may have played a role in the call for detention. Bland’s reaction to the officer is not exactly in keeping with what would be expected in a routine traffic stop. The officer’s attitude and presentation is poor, but the reaction from Bland is also off kilter. Given her history and recent changes in mood there is a valid question on whether or not the officer detected instability suggestive of mania or the capacity for self-harm. If you see yourself in this situation you better find a personal injury lawyer.
The issue with justification is its subjectivity
There is no rule book that can definitively claim to define the criteria for detention as it is based upon subjectivity. When you combine it with reasonable cause for search, then you have an issue when an officer is having to use sensory input and experiential interpretation to try and fulfill defined regulations. That is never going to be cut and dry and there is room on both sides to claim foul. The only recourse is to break down the thought process that leads to the decision. There is no room for interpretation there, the process has to be as clearly defined and supported by precedent as possible in order to be effective for either prosecution or defense. It is also not enough to rely on training protocol. The officer or person’s previous history can be a vital factor in establishing the factors at play in justifying detention.
Paying attention to the wrong video
As with Bland and many others, the media threatens to determine outcome of a case. The main issue is that the important video is being overshadowed by the more dramatic one. What is at the heart of the case about her death is not the arrest, but what occurred in her cell. That footage doesn’t make for good social media fodder, but it has more to do with what happened then the arrest. The arrest, right or wrong, is important – but when it comes to determining wrongful death, it occurred too many hours before to be as influential as the cell environment and care she received would have been.
Special thanks to Brian Musell criminal lawyer; for more info, click here to visit his criminal lawyer avvo profile.