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Police who shot fleeing woman committed “seizure” under Fourth Amendment

A New Mexico woman who was shot by police as she drove away from an investigation was “seized” under the Fourth Amendment, even though the shooting did not result in the police immediately detaining her, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

“Under our cases, an officer seizes a person when he uses force to apprehend her,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion in Torres v. Madrid. “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.”

The case arose from a 2014 incident in which two police officers, who were attempting to serve an arrest warrant for a different person, approached Roxanne Torres. When the officers attempted to speak to Torres, she drove off. The officers, who said they feared for their safety, fired 13 shots, two of which hit Torres. But Torres did not stop; instead, she continued driving for 75 miles. Police arrested her the next day.

Torres later sued the officers, arguing that they violated her constitutional rights by committing an unreasonable seizure. The officers argued that the shooting did not constitute a seizure at all.

Thursday’s ruling was 5-3. Roberts’ majority opinion was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh. Justice Neil Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate because the case was argued before she joined the court.

Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.

Recommended Citation: James Romoser, Police who shot fleeing woman committed “seizure” under Fourth Amendment, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 25, 2021, 11:15 AM),