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Torres v. Madrid

(2014-2021)

How a woman ran from the police, petitioned against them, and won.





BACKGROUND:

Docket Number: 19-292

Date Argued: October 14, 2020

Date Decided: March 25, 2021


In 2014, Roxanne Torres was in her vehicle while under the influence of methamphetamine. Meanwhile, two officers were searching for an individual they had a warrant of arrest for. Suspicious of Torres’s vehicle, the officers approached her. However, Torres feared the officers were carjackers so she drove off. However, as she was driving off, she “put the life of one of the officers (officer Madrid) in danger.” As a result of this, she was shot two times by the officers. In court, Torres argued that the officers used excessive force against her, and that they conspired against her to use excessive force. However, the New Mexico U.S. District Court concluded that since the officers had not yet seized her, they received qualified immunity (certain privileges granted to the officers that protect them from legal trouble during an arrest) and that the fourth amendment had not been violated. The 10th circuit court agreed with this decision. However, the 8th, 9th, 11th circuit courts had previously established that any attempt to seize a suspect, even if it was unsuccessful, counted as a seizure under the fourth amendment. Because the circuit courts had different rulings, there was a circuit split, and the case went up to the supreme court.


PRESIDING QUESTIONS: Does an unsuccessful attempt to seize a suspect with force still count as a seizure, or does it have to be successful?


OUTCOME - What was the final ruling? 5-3 in favor of Torres

  • The majority opinion was that any attempt at a seizure, with or without force, was considered to be a seizure under the fourth amendment. Because of this, the actions of the police officers were deemed to be in violation of the constitution.


PARTIES AND OPINIONS

Side 1- Roxanne Torres (petitioner)

  • Woman from New Mexico.

  • Her central argument is that even though she ran from the police, they still used excessive force against her and attempted to seize her, therefore should be held accountable for violating her fourth amendment rights. This is the majority opinion.

Side 2- Janice Madrid (respondent)

  • One of the police officers involved in the shooting.

  • Her central argument is that since the attempt to seize Torres was unsuccessful, the force used against her was protected.


Dissenting Opinion

  • The dissenting opinion, presented by Justice Neil Gorusch and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, expressed the idea that the majority's interpretation of a seizure was deeply flawed and simply didn’t make sense. He described that under their logic, an officer could merely touch a suspect before they run away never to be seen again, and that would still be considered as a seizure because there was physical contact.


SIGNIFICANCE

  • This case clarifies what a seizure is under the law. Before, a seizure was considered to be when police officers physically apprehend someone. As a result of this case, however, the definition has been broadened to include physical ATTEMPTS to apprehend someone. This is hugely important because under the law, officers lose certain privileges when they have seized a suspect. Because failed attempts at a seizure now fall under this category, they have less power in a lot of situations. Long story short, this case redefines what a seizure is under the fourth amendment, and grants citizens more freedoms against law enforcement..


Tags:

Sources

  • https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/19-292

  • https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/25/politics/supreme-court-excessive-force-roxanne-torres/index.html

  • https://ballotpedia.org/Torres_v._Madrid

  • https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/19-292


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