Amid the increasing national attention surrounding police violence, the Supreme Court issued an opinion on March 25th that clarifies the meaning of “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment.

The case, Torris v. Madrid, gained attention after a New Mexico woman was shot by police as she drove away from an investigation. The woman later sued, arguing that her constitutional rights were violated because the police committed an unreasonable seizure.

The question was whether a seizure occurs when an officer shoots someone who temporarily eludes capture after the shooting. The answer: YES.

This is interesting because the police did not immediately detain the woman after shooting her. However, the Supreme Court still held that this was considered a seizure.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday, holding that it was a seizure and said that “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.”

Divided court issues bright-line ruling on Fourth Amendment seizures

The opinion offers two surprises:

The majority gave a broad holding and goes out of its way to craft a clear bright-line rule that goes beyond the facts of this case.
The Court announced the rule and stated that: “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.”

This captures any touching at all.

The Court was extremely divided on the subject.
Not only was there a 26-page dissent (9 more than the majority opinion), but the dissenting judges held that neither the Constitution nor common sense supports the majority’s definition of a seizure.

More specifically, Justice Gorsuch cast the majority opinion “as mistaken as it is novel.” As he put it, the court ruled that it’s a seizure “even if the suspect refuses to stop, evades capture, and rides off into the sunset never to be seen again.”

What are your thoughts?

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