The Supreme Court sided with a New Mexico woman who was shot while driving away from police, determining that police “seized” her.
The case will go back to lower courts for further deliberation as to whether that seizure was “unreasonable,” and if police are guilty of violating Fourth Amendment rights.
The decision in Torres vs. Madrid could allow more excessive force suits to move forward on the basis that the use of force against a suspect that ends up evading arrest could still constitute a “seizure,” thus violating one’s constitutional rights against unreasonable seizure.
According to the AP, the S.C. justices ruled 5-3 (3 liberals and 2 conservatives) in allowing the case to move forward in the lower courts. The ruling found that the victim of the shooting, Roxanne Torres, had been “seized” despite fleeing.
“The question in this case is whether a seizure occurs when an officer shoots someone who temporarily eludes capture after the shooting. The answer is yes: The application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure, even if the force does not succeed in subduing the person,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an 18-page opinion.
Now, the case will go back to the lower courts to determine whether or not the “seizure” was justified by officers, as the Fourth Amendment does not forbid “even most” seizures, according to Roberts.
The shooting occurred in 2014 when four Albuquerque police officers arrived at her apartment with an arrest warrant for someone else. Torres was in her car when police attempted to talk with her, but she didn’t notice due to a methamphetamine withdrawal. When officers attempted to open the car door, she assumed the officers were carjackers and fled in her vehicle. Officers then fired at the car 13 times. She was hit in the back twice.
According to AP, Torres pleaded no contest to aggravated feeing from a law enforcement officer and assault on a peace officer, but sued the officers for an excessive use of force. Lower courts decided in favor of officers, while an appeals court concurred. Now, the Supreme Court has stepped in and allowed the case to move forward.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. In a 26-page dissent, they stated that the majority’s definition of “seizure” was mistaken.
Gorsuch wrote, “The majority holds that a criminal suspect can be simultaneously seized and roaming at large. On the majority’s account, a Fourth Amendment ‘seizure’ takes place whenever an officer ‘merely touches’ a suspect. It’s a seizure even if the suspect refuses to stop, evades capture, and rides off into the sunset never to be seen again. That view is as mistaken as it is novel.”