SCOTUS Opinion: A Police Shooting Can Constitute An Unreasonable Seizure Under The Fourth Amendment

Two officers approached Roxanne Torres while she stood near her car. They intended to question her, but she thought they were carjackers and sped away. The officers shot at Torres 13 times, wounding her twice. She crashed her car, then stole another car, and drove to a hospital 75 miles away. She was arrested the next day. Torres sued the officers for using excessive force against her under the Fourth Amendment. The district court and the Tenth Circuit denied her claim, holding that the fact that she had been shot did not constitute an “unreasonable seizure” under the Fourth Amendment because she was able to leave.

In a 5-3 decision by Chief Justice Roberts (Justice Barrett recused), the Court held 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. The majority noted that the use of force alone was not sufficient, as force applied by accident or for some other purpose might not qualify. But as the officers in this case were shooting at Torres in order to get her to stop, their actions qualified as a seizure exposing them to liability. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, dissented, arguing that a seizure under the Fourth Amendment requires an actual seizure, not just any force with intent to seize.

A link to the opinion in Torres v. Madrid is here: