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U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Important Fourth Amendment Case Involving Whether Shooting a Suspect Is A “Seizure”


The US Supreme Court is currently considering an important Fourth Amendment issue for the first time in the Torres v. Madrid case: Whether shooting a fleeing suspect counts as seizure, triggering Fourth Amendment requirements, if the suspect still manages to get away. Previously, the Court decided that once police physically touched a suspect, it is a seizure, even if the suspect gets away. However, there is a split amongst lower courts, where the New Mexico Supreme Court and the 8th, 9th, and 11th Circuits held that unsuccessful attempts to detain suspects by using physical force count as seizure under the Fourth Amendment, while the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and 10th Circuit held that physical force must be successful in order to technically constitute a seizure.

This is a very important case in that the 10th Circuit’s ruling in the case is inconsistent with previous Supreme Court decisions concerning the definition of “seizure” and basic Fourth Amendment rights. It also creates serious real-world consequences when it comes to police accountability.

The Case

In Torres, the suspect was in a car and, according to police, suspected of engaging in drug crimes. As police approached her car, she successfully fled the scene, but was shot twice by police before doing so. The suspect filed a civil rights complaint against the officers, arguing that they engaged in excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, but the lower court found that there was no seizure at the time of the shooting, and, therefore, there could be no Fourth Amendment violation. The 10th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, finding that, unless the bullets had actually stopped the suspect from fleeing, it could not be a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment.

The question before the Supreme Court becomes whether the officers seized her within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and ultimately comes down to whether shooting someone is more like physically grabbing them or simply pursuing them, as it matters to the Court what method police use when they fail to apprehend a suspect. There is an argument that shooting someone should count as seizure in order to ensure that there are consequences for police officers because it is similar to the physical touching of someone. It will also be interesting to see if the Court takes the next step in answering the additional question of whether it is still a seizure if the bullet misses the individual, as it would be helpful if the Court went so far as to declare an unjustified shooting to be an unreasonable seizure.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney with Any Questions

If you are facing criminal charges after experiencing a civil rights violation, you need to speak with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney right away. At the office of Phillip J. Murphy, we have been serving clients for more than 25 years in successfully defending their rights when it comes to criminal defense services. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.




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