The Supreme Court Just Made It Easier to Sue Cops for Excessive Force
In a 5-3 ruling on Thursday, the conservative United States Supreme Court made it easier for civilians to sue cops for using excessive force.
The case involved a New Mexico woman named Roxanne Torres who filed a civil suit against New Mexico State Police officers Richard Williamson and Janice Madrid, by whom she was shot after she mistook them for carjackers.
Torres had accused Williamson and Madrid “of violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal searches and seizures even though she had not been immediately detained, or seized, in the incident,” reported Reuters.
“In the 2014 incident, four officers arrived at an apartment complex in Albuquerque and approached Torres, who was sitting in a car. Torres said she fled when she saw people with guns approaching, thinking she was going to be carjacked. Madrid and Williamson fired 13 shots between them, hitting her twice in the back as she drove away in her car. Torres continued driving but was arrested the next day after being treated in a hospital for her wounds. She was convicted of three criminal offenses, including fleeing from a law enforcement officer,” the outlet explained.
“The court determined that in order to sue for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to have been physically seized by law enforcement,” said Reuters.
“The case will now return to lower courts, where the officers could seek to have the lawsuit dismissed on other grounds including the legal doctrine called qualified immunity that protects police and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances,” Reuters noted.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion – in which he was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonya Sotomayor – 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.”
In the dissenting minority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch maintained that the Constitution defined “seizure” as “taking possession of someone or something.” Gorsuch, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, said that the majority’s “view is as mistaken as it is novel.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett was recused from the ruling because the case was argued before she was confirmed to the bench last October.