On March 25, 2021, the Supreme Court decided Torres v. Madrid. This case arises out of an incident Roxanne Torres had with police officers in which she was operating a vehicle under the influence of methamphetamine and in the process of trying to get away, endangered the two officers pursuing her. In the process, one of the officers shot and injured her. Torres pleaded no contest to three crimes: (1) aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer, (2) assault on a police officer, and (3) unlawfully taking a motor vehicle.
In October 2016, she filed a civil-rights complaint in federal court against the two officers, alleging claims including excessive force and conspiracy to engage in excessive force. Construing Torres’s complaint as asserting the excessive-force claims under the Fourth Amendment, the court concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. In the court’s view, the officers had not seized Torres at the time of the shooting, and without a seizure, there could be no Fourth Amendment violation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed.
In a 5-3 vote the Supreme Court vacated and remanded. 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. Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Thomas and Alito joined. Justice Barrett took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director and General Counsel, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, joins us today to discuss this opinion.