Cold Case

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

It’s hard to believe, but up until 1985 it was legal for police to shoot and kill an unarmed suspect who tried to run away. Could shoot ’em in the back. Even if the suspect was a child.

A Tennessee statute said if an officer cried “Halt!” and the 17-year-old suspect tried to hop a fence instead, the lawman could “use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.” I suppose the law was trying to protect the health of a fat cop who couldn’t give chase without risk of a heart attack, or stubbed toe.

But the Supreme Court, in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, which by then had been deciding what the police could and couldn’t do for 196 years, said it was time we stop shooting fleeing and unarmed juveniles in the back. Two Justices thought we should give the police more time to get used to the idea.

We’d come a long way since 1789. Some day we may even decide it’s just not right to shoot a suspect reaching for his wallet or cell phone, even if he or she is black, or shaded that way.

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