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If a Suspect Gets Away Can There be an Excessive Force Claim?

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Like so many institutions, the U.S. Supreme Court has put off normal operations during the Coronavirus crisis. One case that has been put on hold could have lasting effects on excessive force cases.

The case involves the use of excessive force, and how it interacts with the fourth amendment to the constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. It has long been the law that when police use excessive force against someone, they violate that person’s fourth amendment right. But what about when police use force against someone, and that person gets away? There is, by definition, no seizure. Is the fourth amendment still violated by the attempt to use excessive force?

Woman Evades Police Who Shot at Her

In the case, police approached a woman who was using street meth. The woman got in her car, and attempted to drive away. The police, standing outside, were unable to see inside the vehicle because of the window tinting.

According to the victim, she did not see the police, but she heard her car handle start to jiggle, and thought that she was being carjacked. She drove off frantically, but in doing so, she was driving straight into one of the officers. The officer who was in front of the car started shooting at the vehicle, in an attempt to keep himself from being crushed between the victim’s car, and another stationary vehicle.

The victim was shot by the officer, and the car came to a stop. She got out of the car, wounded, and laid on the ground, in an attempt, she stated, to surrender to who she still thought were carjackers. Somehow, the woman had time to get up, steal a car and drive 75 miles away to a local hospital where she was eventually apprehended.

Suit for Excessive Force

She then sued the police, claiming they had used excessive force against her. The lower court disagreed, on the basis that there was no seizure, as the woman had driven away. There are cases that have held that when an officer uses excessive force against someone, for a fourth amendment violation to occur, the suspect’s movement must be stopped.

The victim has now appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which was set to hear the case in March, but argument before the Court is now delayed to an undetermined date.

Case Will Have a Big Impact

The victim in this case may not be very sympathetic, but the case has lasting implications. Allowing police to use excessive force as long as the victim gets away would potentially create a lot of leeway for officers to do whatever they want to suspects. Those suspects who are able to escape police would not be able to sue for damages against police, at least, not under the suspects’ fourth amendment rights. That would likely be against what the framers of the constitution envisioned when they wrote the fourth amendment.

Excessive Force laws are always changing. Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to help you if you have been a victim of police misconduct of any kind.

Resources:

scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/torres-v-madrid/

ncsl.org/blog/2019/12/27/supreme-court-to-decide-excessive-force-case.aspx

https://www.lasseterlaw.com/suing-police-departments-for-failure-to-train-officers/

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