General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Do peace officers really have the power to commandeer private vehicles?

Asked by AstroChuck (37385points) May 27th, 2009 from iPhone

We’ve all seen television shows and movies where some policeman or federal officer demands someone allow them to use their personal vehicle. A reckless chase generally follows where a $50,000 classic Mustang is smashed to bits.
But has anyone really heard of someone having their car commandeered? Wouldn’t this be a violation of the fourth amendment? I’m guessing that it’s just some folktale that’s been told to us by Hollywood, like the false belief that a ship’s captain can marry on the high seas. Am I right? I figure someone out there either is or knows somebody who is in law enforcement.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

24 Answers

Darwin's avatar

Someone already asked that and it was answered here

What it says is:

Do they? Yes, there are clear examples where cops have commandeered private cars.

Can they legally? Yes, most of the time, if it is to aid in stopping a crime or capturing a suspected criminal or in a declared state of emergency. This is called posse comitatus

What if I say no? You can be fined and/or jailed.

Are there times when I can say no? If it were clearly futile or dangerous for the cop to take your property you can say no, but you may have to discuss it in court.

Is it constitutional? The Supreme Court says yes, it is as long as it is necessary and reasonable.

What if they wreck it? You are usually out of luck unless your own insurance covers it.

What if I do what the cops say and someone gets hurt? You can be sued.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Darwin
What if they wreck it? You are usually out of luck unless your own insurance covers it.
I would imagine this would be arguable in a court of law.

Darwin's avatar

@SeventhSense – You can argue just about anything in a court of law, but in the case of demanding damages not voluntarily paid by a jurisdiction, you rarely are successful. Only three state courts have granted reimbursement: Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas. This is what the link above says about it:

“In United States v. Russell the Supreme Court was faced with a claim for three steamers commandeered by military authorities during the Civil War. The Russell court found it obvious that “the taking of such property under such circumstances creates an obligation on the part of the government to reimburse the owner to the full value of the service.” The court continued, “private rights, under such extreme and imperious circumstances, must give way for the time to the public good, but the government must make full restitution for the sacrifice.” The court concluded that the obligation to make full restitution was based on an implied promise “on the part of the United States to reimburse the owner for the use of the steamboats and for his own services and expenses, and for the services of the crews during the period the steamboats were employed in transporting government freight pursuant to those orders.”

The Supreme Court hasn’t said what happens if equipment is borrowed and returned damaged, but lower courts have been reluctant to award compensation in such cases. In Blackman v. City of Cincinnati, for instance, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to compensate a vehicle owner for a crash that occurred when police ordered him to chase a fleeing suspect. Other courts have followed suit. In a much-discussed case, Customer Co. v. City of Sacramento, the California Supreme Court rejected a claim for compensation by a convenience store owner whose store was damaged when police used tear gas to flush out a suspect hiding inside. The court hinted that the result might be different if a plaintiff were seeking compensation after police “commandeered a citizen’s automobile to chase a fleeing suspect, or appropriated ammunition from a private gun shop to replenish an inadequate supply. Conceivably, such unusual actions might constitute an exercise of eminent domain, because private property would be taken for public use,” entitling the owner to compensation. Even then, the court recognized that Blackman suggested the opposite result.

Fact is, it’s not easy recovering for damage caused by the police regardless of circumstances. Courts have refused compensation to people whose property the police damaged while executing arrest warrants or search warrants. They’ve also refused compensation when police intentionally damaged property in an effort to flush out a suspect. Of the state courts that have considered the issue so far, only three, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas, have allowed those with damaged property to recover.

Of course there are other sources of recovery. If you have the right kind of insurance, it probably covers your vehicle if it’s damaged by police while they use it for law enforcement purposes. Many jurisdictions also either voluntarily compensate those who suffer damages when following the instructions of law enforcement personnel, or are required by local law to do so. Some victim compensation funds allow claims like this. Those injured while assisting police are often given workers’ compensation benefits under the police departments workers’ compensation program.”

So you can argue it if you wish, but most of the time you won’t get satisfaction.

AstroChuck's avatar

I am surprised. I would have thought it unconstitutional to take someone’s personal property without permission. However, I just can’t believe that the vehicle owner could be held liable if the commandeeree (I think I just made up a word) were to injure or kill someone.

augustlan's avatar

How on Earth can you be sued if the police are driving your vehicle and injure someone or cause property damage?!? That seems utterly ridiculous!

Darwin's avatar

As to the unconstitutionality, it seems to go back to the common good – it may discommode the owner of the property but it will benefit the community as a whole.

As far as liability – you are aware that a person can file any suit they want against anybody, aren’t you? That doesn’t mean they would win or even that the court will hear the suit, but they can go ahead and try. The argument might be something like this: because you can say no to the police if the action involving your car is either futile or dangerous, the fact that you didn’t say no and it turned out to be dangerous could mean you were negligent.

Doesn’t mean the judge will award any damages, but it is still a pain in the butt.

Sometimes, as has been said, “The law is an ass.” (Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist)

augustlan's avatar

@Darwin Point taken. Some people are lawsuit happy. Asshats.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Darwin
Well with Johnny Cochran anything’s possible.
I’d use the blue rage defense. :)

AstroChuck's avatar

As to you can sue anyone over anything, I can’t see a judge allowing it. It would likely be thrown out, and rightly so.

Darwin's avatar

Maybe, but my husband, who was a bailiff for 11 years, has seen some stranger and less logical suits go forward.

AstroChuck's avatar

Fair enough. I seem to remember a famous McDonald’s coffee suit that should have been thrown out of court.

eponymoushipster's avatar

maybe you could just drive the cop where he wanted to go. stop for donuts, etc. along the way.

andrew's avatar

I would think the thing to do is to let the cop drive your car—since you’d be much less liable (still liable nonetheless).

You’re not liable if your car is stolen, correct? I can’t imagine that you’d be liable if the cop was driving, since imagining that the court found you were negligent for giving up your car, then they would also find the officer at fault for attempting to commandeer, and you could sue the police officer.

Poser's avatar

@AstroChuck Not to go off on a tangent here, but the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit should not have been thrown out of court. The facts of that case have been practically ignored around the internets and media stories.

Imagine if your 81 year old mother or grandmother received third degree burns on her butt, thighs, and genitals simply by trying to open her cup to add cream and sugar—then finding out that it had happened 700 times before that. She spent eight days in the hospital, required skin grafts and racked up $20k worth of medical expenses.

AstroChuck's avatar

The only reason people go to McDonald’s for the coffee is because they served it extra hot. This was known by the public and the cups themselves carried a warning. I used to work there in the mornings. Believe me, the coffee was the driving force. This woman knew this. She wasn’t ordering iced coffee.

Poser's avatar

If the coffee is hot enough to cause third degree burns to one’s ass, what might it do to their mouth?

Darwin's avatar

No wonder I don’t drink McDonald’s coffee.

wundayatta's avatar

Clearly it is better to say no and risk fine or jail, then to let them take it and risk losing the car.

Darwin's avatar

Maybe. It depends on your insurance, as well as how guilty you might feel if some desperate and evil criminal remained free and able to hurt others because you said no.

wundayatta's avatar

Maybe, but often car chases hurt more innocent people rather than catching a criminal. It is rarely that urgent to chase a criminal in a car. You can get them other ways. In fact, in my city, car chases end up hurting a civilian other than the criminal more often than they end up catching the criminal. They’ve put a limit on car chases. I guess cops aren’t the drivers they think they are.

Blondesjon's avatar

I don’t think you have to unless the officer in question has either the surname Starsky or Hutch.

wundayatta's avatar

@Blondesjon Excellent point!

Darwin's avatar

What if he isn’t a cop but he looks and sounds like Bruce Willis? You know you won’t get your car back in one piece, but the ride will be really exciting. “Yippee-ki-yay…”

SeventhSense's avatar

@Blondesjon
But Huggy Bear will not give up his pink cadillac under any circumstance

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther