By James Romoser
on March 25, 2021
at 11:15 a.m.
A New Mexico woman who was shot by police while driving away from an investigation was “seized” under the Fourth Amendment, although the shooting did not result in police arresting her immediately, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
“In our cases an officer seizes a person if he arrests them by force,” wrote Justice Minister John Roberts in the majority opinion in Torres against Madrid. “In this case, the question arises as to whether a seizure occurs when an officer shoots someone who temporarily evades capture after the shooting. The answer is yes: the use of physical violence on a person’s body with the intention of holding them back is a seizure, even when the force fails to subdue the person. “
The case arose from a 2014 incident where two police officers trying to issue an arrest warrant against another person turned to Roxanne Torres. When the officers tried to speak to Torres, she drove off. Officials, who said they feared for their safety, fired 13 shots, two of which hit Torres. But Torres did not stop; Instead, she drove 75 miles. The police arrested her the next day.
Torres later sued the officers on the grounds that they violated their constitutional rights by committing an improper seizure. The officials argued that the shooting did not constitute a confiscation at all.
Thursday’s decision was 5-3. Roberts’ majority opinion was supported by Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh. Judge Neil Gorsuch submitted a dissenting opinion, which was followed by Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Judge Amy Coney Barrett did not attend as the case was discussed prior to joining the court.
Check back soon for an in-depth analysis of the opinion.