Torres v. Madrid (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2021)

The Federal Docket

Fourth Amendment/Seizure – A “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment occurs when an officer uses force with an intent to restrain, which exists when “the challenged conduct objectively manifests an intent to restrain,” and a seizure can still occur if officers use force from a distance in an attempt to restrain someone.

Roxanne Torres brought a lawsuit against two New Mexico State Police under Section 1983 after they fired their guns at Torres, who was driving away, and struck her twice. The Supreme Court considered whether the officers had “seized” Torres under the Fourth Amendment by shooting at her.

Torres was sitting in her car at an apartment complex when the officers arrived to execute an arrest warrant for another individual. The officers approached her to talk to her and, confusing them for potential carjackers, Torres hit the gas and drove away. The officers fired their guns at Torres 13 times to try to stop her, and they ended up shooting her twice. After getting shot, Torres crashed her car, stole another car nearby, and ended up driving 75 miles before being airlifted to a hospital. The police came to the hospital and arrested her the next day.

Concluding that the officers had performed a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme 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 Court liked the situation to common law where an attempted arrest constitutes a seizure even where the person does not yield, and reasoned that “the analysis does not change because the officers used force from a distance to restrain Torres.” As long as a use of force is coupled with an intent to restrain, a seizure occurs, and, critically, the question of intent is not subjective but rather turns on “whether the challenged conduct objectively manifests an intent to restrain.”

Certiorari to the Tenth Circuit
Opinion by Roberts, joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh
Dissent by Gorsuch, joined by Thomas and Alito

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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