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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. Of course, a seizure is just the first step in the analysis. The Fourth Amendment does not forbid all or even most seizures—only unreasonable ones.
Respondents Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson, officers with the New Mexico State Police, arrived at an Albuquerque apartment complex to execute an arrest warrant and approached petitioner Roxanne Torres, then standing near a Toyota FJ Cruiser. The officers attempted to speak with her as she got into the driver’s seat. Believing the officers to be carjackers, Torres hit the gas to escape. The officers fired their service pistols 13 times to stop Torres, striking her twice. Torres managed to escape and drove to a hospital 75 miles away, only to be airlifted back to a hospital in Albuquerque, where the police arrested her the next day. Torres later sought damages from the officers under 42 U. S. C. §1983. She claimed that the officers used excessive force against her and that the shooting constituted an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the officers, the Tenth Circuit held that a suspect’s continued flight after being shot by police negated a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim. Torres challenged the decision.
Did the shooting constitute seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
The Court held that Torres, who was shot by police while fleeing the scene in her vehicle, was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because the application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain was a seizure, even if the force did not succeed in subduing the suspect. The officers’ shooting applied physical force to petitioner’s body and objectively manifested an intent to restrain her from driving away, so the officers seized the petitioner for the instant that the bullets struck her. The Court did not address the reasonableness of the seizure, the damages caused by the seizure, or the officers’ entitlement to qualified immunity.