The Supreme Court handed down a ruling Thursday that potentially makes justifying use of force much harder for law enforcement. The 5-3 ruling sided with a New Mexico woman shot by police as she attempted to flee in 2014. The decision centered on how the woman’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
Supreme Court Upholds Fourth Amendment in Use of Force Case
“The question in this case is whether a seizure occurs when an officer shoots someone who temporarily eludes capture after the shooting,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority, reported Fox News. “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.”
During the 2014 incident, state police shot Roxanne Torres at an apartment complex in Albuquerque, N.M., reported Fox News. She mistakenly believed two officers were carjackers. So she tried to escape. The officers, on the scene for another woman, stated they needed to identify if Torres was their suspect. As Torres attempted to flee, police claimed she drove toward them dangerously. So Officers Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson opened fire. Torres suffered wounds to her back. She later sued for excessive force, according to Fox News.
The Fourth Amendment states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Lower courts previously ruled for the police. Those rulings essentially held no seizure occurred, as no officer laid a hand on Torres.
Supreme Court: A Seizure Took Place
“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,” said Justice Gorsuch, reported Fox News. “Neither the Constitution nor common sense can sustain it.”
So Thursday’s ruling marks a win for personal freedom, via the Fourth Amendment. But it leaves questions for law enforcement officers attempting to perform an already difficult duty. But with gun control looming, let’s hope the Supreme Court continues upholding our Constitution.