Supreme Court Rules Police Effectively ‘Seize’ You When They Shoot You

Well, this is a weird one.

In 2014, Roxanne Torres drove into an apartment complex with a passenger. Four officers approached Torres, who was sitting in her car. Torres said she fled when she saw people with guns approaching, thinking she was going to be carjacked. Officers Madrid and Williamson fired 13 shots between them, hitting her twice in the back as she drove away in her car.

Torres continued driving but was arrested the next day after being treated in a hospital for her wounds. She was convicted of three criminal offenses, including fleeing from a law enforcement officer.

She then sued the officers for using excessive force. A federal court judge in New Mexico in 2016 dismissed the case, saying there could be no excessive force claim because a “seizure” had not occurred. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion in 2019, prompting Torres to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision on Thursday and expanded the ability of people to sue police for excessive force, ruling in favor of Torres.

The 5-3 decision allowed Torres to pursue her lawsuit accusing New Mexico State Police officers Richard Williamson and Janice Madrid of violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal searches and seizures even though she had not been immediately detained, or seized, in the incident.

The court determined that in order to sue for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to have been physically seized by law enforcement.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote

“We hold that the application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure even if the person does not submit and is not subdued.”

In a dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch said a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment has always been defined as “taking possession of someone or something,” and he criticized the court’s contrary conclusion.

Gorsuch wrote:

“That view is as mistaken as it is novel.”

The case will now return to lower courts, where the officers could seek to have the lawsuit dismissed on other grounds including the legal doctrine called qualified immunity that protects police and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances.

Interestingly, the police wore identifying clothing and their badges, along with tactical vests.  Torres claimed she couldn’t see anything because it was dark.

There is a bigger question.  If the force used didn’t do the job, as in, didn’t detain her, then how could it be excessive?  Just a thought.

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Comments (4)

  1. David Bruce Allen

    Since Torres was fleeing and did NOT pose a direct threat to the officers they were NOT justified in the use of lethal force.
    The officers shot Torres in the back and should have been prosecuted for attempted murder. Anyone else would have
    been prosecuted for attempted murder. If the officers shot at Torres and NOT the tires of the vehicle it could be shown
    that they had the intent to kill.

    Did the officers yell a warning?
    Did the officers have probable cause?
    Did the officers have a warrant?
    Did the officers KNOW 100% for sure
    that there were NO innocent people
    in the fleeing vehicle?

    If they did not, the officers were clearly in the wrong in shooting at a fleeing vehicle.
    They had NO legal or moral justification in doing so.

    This is the kind of situation that causes so much conflict. From the information presented
    it appears the officers were NOT justified in the use of deadly force. They should have been
    prosecuted on those grounds. At the least the offending officers should be removed from
    duty. NOONE is justified in the use of deadly force against a person who does NOT pose an
    immediate threat. Torres was NOT attacking but fleeing, evidenced by the fact that Torres
    was shot in the back.

    Police unions should NOT be protecting officers who do things like this. They are part of the
    main problem which is causing so much division, strife and negative sentiment toward our
    law enforcement people in blue who are doing their jobs right. Notice, only two of the four
    officers present on the scene fired their weapon at Torres while fleeing. At least two of the
    four KNEW it was wrong. The two that did fire in this situation should have been better
    trained before letting them out on the streets with a badge and deadly weapon.

  2. Cesar Mendoza

    Good. People need protection from the Police, sometimes. They are abusing, sometimes.

  3. Ernst

    The police shot the woman without due cause. That deserves at least civil restitution, if not extreme street riots.

  4. gordon Deitz

    Law enforcement has gotten way out of hand. Officers use the same tactics irregardless of who they are in contact with. Improperly trained in out dated methods and inclined to use exseive methods and a mindset of immunity.
    Much must be done to correct these shortfallings.

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