You can never be too safe, right? Well, that all depends.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the case of Gail Atwater, recently decided by the Supreme Court. Atwater was driving along when one of her kids’ toys flew out the window. She turned the car around to find it. Neither she nor her kids had their seat belts fastened. The kids had undone their seatbelts so they could look around more easily for the toy.
Dangerous, right? Sure. Anyway, Gail Atwater got pulled over, got arrested, got handcuffed, got dragged into the police station. She pled no-contest and paid the hundred-dollar fine. The officer was “just being safe” here, right? After all, anyone who fails to wear a seatbelt deserves to be traumatized, just to make sure she gets the message. Otherwise she might turn into a dangerous axe-murderer. Right? Well, who knows why the police officer acted as he did. Nobody claims that Atwater was violent or in any way abusive toward the officer. But the issue here is not one officer’s bad judgment, but whether that judgment can be allowed to stand as permissible procedure by legislators, by the police themselves, by the courts.
Atwater felt that her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure had been violated. She sued. And now the court of last resort, the Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that although the officer may have acted with lousy judgment, he acted within his appropriate discretion.
So the same thing could happen to you the next time you violate some minor traffic rule. Feel safer now?
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.